Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16605 Case Actions Following First Referrals to the Child Welfare System: Factors Associated with Placement Into Out of Home Care and Methodological Considerations for Analysis

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:00 AM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Joseph A. Mienko, MSW, Doctoral Student and Research Assistant, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose: There is very little research directly examining factors associated with a child's initial entry into out-of-home care. There are certainly examples of literature examining related questions. For instance, several studies have examined a child's risk of reentry into the foster care system after exiting out-of-home care. While such studies are certainly informative, they do not adequately describe a child's risk of entry from the point that their risk of entry begins (i.e. the point at which they are initially referred to the child welfare system). Others studies have examined this question more directly. However, such studies have implemented analytic techniques which dichotomize the decision making process in a way that may not be truly representative of child welfare decision making. The current analysis seeks to add to the existing literature through the examination of factors associated with placement from the point of a child's initial referral to the child welfare system using modeling techniques which implicitly acknowledge that, from the point of referral, a child is simultaneously at risk of at least two outcomes: (1) Case closure, and (2) Out-of-Home Placement.

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.

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