Methods: Using AFCARS data collected by the federal government from eight state child welfare systems, this study examined foster care reentry after adoption or guardianship for a population of children from four Southern, one Midwestern, one Pacific and two Western States (N=80,657). These children and youth exited foster care between 2010 and 2016. Survival analysis was used to examine pre-permanency factors associated with post-permanency return to foster care up to the age of majority.
Results: Children who exited foster care to adoption and guardianship were, on average 6.7 years old, and had spent 2.5 years in foster care prior to exiting. Descriptive analyses showed that only a small proportion of children experienced a return to foster care over the observation period (2.3%). In addition, rates of reentry were significantly different across states, ranging from 2% to 4%. Multivariate survival analyses indicated that, controlling for child’s race and gender, type of maltreatment and additional child and case characteristics, the child’s age at the time of legal permanence (HR=1.1) and length of time in foster care were significant predictors of reentry. Children who were in foster care for less than 9 months were more likely to reenter care (HR=1.397), compared to children who spent at least three years in foster care. Hazards for reentry increased with each move a child had in foster care (HR=1.534). Children with a disability were also more likely to reenter foster care (HR=1.47). Separate models for adoption and guardianship produced results that suggest differential patterns for reentry, based on the time spent in care and type of legal permanence.
Conclusions: This study, with data from a variety of U.S. states, begins to shed some light on key predictors of foster care reentry from adoption and guardianship. The average reentry occurred when children were 10.7 years old, suggesting higher risk for reentry in early adolescence. Therefore, targeting limited resources toward children who have disabilities, have experienced instability in foster care, and are older at the time of finalization is suggested by these findings. Reentry rates varied by state, suggesting that state policies and practices should be examined, quantified and included in models to better understand differences across child welfare jurisdictions.