Methods: This analysis examined the risk of entry into out-of-home care utilizing a sample of children experiencing their first referral to a child welfare system in the Pacific Northwest from 2003 to 2008. The analysis was conducted using a proportional hazards modeling approach examining competing risks of case closure vs. placement.
Results: The initial results of our analysis indicate key demographic covariates associated with increased risk of placement including status as an infant, African American, or female. Receipt of services was also associated with an increased risk of placement. Physical abuse and sexual abuse allegations were associated with decreased risk of placement while cases in which any allegation was founded or cases in which the referral was classified as “high risk” on intake were associated with over 100 percent increases in the rate of placement. Cases assigned to a work unit which had received a number of cases greater than nationally recommended caseload standards were associated with a decreased risk of placement.
Conclusions and Implications: The associations between risk of placement and the identified demographic variables largely match patterns which would be expected based on previous research. With regard to features of the referral, the findings presented here suggest that having a founded allegation remains an important predictor of placement in out of home care; at least for first referrals. The increased risk of placement associated with the receipt of services (i.e. the creation of a voluntary service plan) raises questions regarding the extent to which such services truly promote family preservation. Finally, the decreased risk of placement associated with high case assignments in the calendar week of the referral could provide important insight into caseload dynamics. Findings will be discussed in terms of implications for organizational management and practice. Additional discussion will center on the relative benefit of various techniques available for analyzing outcomes of referrals to the child welfare system.