The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

A Longitudinal Study of Multiple Placements in Florida's Privatized Foster Care System

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 9:00 AM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Julie A. Steen, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Background and Purpose:  Permanence is a key goal for the foster care system.  As such, much effort has been made to reduce multiple placements in out-of-home care.  Unfortunately, an increase in multiple placements has been identified as a possible unintended consequence of foster care privatization.  Petr and Johnson (1999) found that multiple placements increased in one county after the privatization of Kansas’ foster care system.  Likewise, research regarding Florida’s system found that this problem increased following privatization (OPPAGA, 2006).  However, both of these studies are limited to the time immediately following the transition.  Based on this literature, the following two questions arise:  Has the problem of multiple placements improved, deteriorated, or remained unchanged following Florida’s privatization of foster care?  If improvement or deterioration has occurred, are these changes sustained across time or only temporary?

Method:  In order to address the research questions listed above, a longitudinal study of multiple placements in Florida’s foster care system was conducted.  The dependent variable was the percent of children who experienced three or more placements during their most recent episode of out-of-home care.  This percent was calculated at the county level for 67 Floridian counties on an annual basis for six years (2002-2007), resulting in 397 data points extracted from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).  The primary independent variable was the year in which the county transitioned to privatization.  These data were analyzed in two forms:  a pre-post privatization t-test and a visual inspection of longitudinal line graphs.  Line graphs were compared across various transition dates which were staggered across the state.    

Results:  Overall, the results indicate that privatization had a detrimental impact on multiple placements.  The mean percent of children in three or more placements significantly increased from 30% to 35% (p=.002).  The line graphs represented two trends.  Line graphs for counties that privatized before 2002, in 2002, and in 2003 revealed an unsteady rise in multiple placements with the last data point from 2007 being substantially worse than the first data point from 2002.  A second trend took on a bell shaped curve, with multiple placements rising during the year of transition to privatization but returning to the pre-privatization levels after the transition.  This second trend was seen among the counties that transitioned in 2004.      

Conclusion and Implications:  These results support the idea that privatization disrupts the system and causes this important outcome to deteriorate.  In some counties, this disruption was temporary, as private agencies were able to quickly stabilize.  In other areas of the state, this disruption resulted in a long-term continuous decline in placement stability.  Based on these results, policymakers and administrators should carefully consider the negative impact of transitions before ordering changes in the service delivery system.  Since system change is disruptive by nature, transitions should only be undertaken when the benefits are expected to far outweigh the negative outcomes created by the disruption.