Method: This study uses data from the a Southwestern State’s Safe Babies Court Team to track 15, 818 children age birth to five years who have stayed in foster care and now their first removals have been ended. These children either have short-stay (<=30 days) in foster care (n=2,548), or long-stay (>30 days) in foster care (n=13,270). To control for selection bias, a propensity score weighting analysis was used so that the two groups of children in short stay group and non-short stay group are balanced on all the covariates. Then with the propensity score adjustment, a survival analysis was conducted to account for the time-varying nature of the data, and to estimate the hazard of having the outcome of the reentry to foster care. Cox regression was estimated and hazard ratios were used to assess the effect of short stay as well as other predictors on time to reentry.
Results: The primary outcome of interest in this study was reentry, and results show that 1,380 young children (8.72%) re-entered foster care within 12 months after their first removal ended. The hazard rate of reentry for children who were short-stayers was higher than those who were not short-stayers (HR = 8.28, P < 0.001). In addition, some demographic characteristics of the children and parents were significantly associated with time to reentry. For example, compared with male children, female children were 52% more likely to re-enter foster care (HR = 1.52, p < 0.05). Compared with married parent, parent with other types of marital status (not married or single) was 58% less likely to re-enter foster care (HR = 0.42, p < 0.01).
Conclusion: This study addresses a critical gap in re-entry research of children from birth to five with short stays in out-of-home care. Findings indicate that child characteristics such as child gender are associated with time to re-entry. Moreover, children whose parents were married were more likely to re-enter after short stays than single parents. Research was limited to one county in Southwestern United States. Further research should include multiple geographic locations and explore services to parents, especially married parents, between short stays and re-entry of infants and toddlers.