Abstract: Reentry of Infants and Toddlers after the Shortest Stays in Foster Care (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Reentry of Infants and Toddlers after the Shortest Stays in Foster Care

Friday, January 18, 2019: 5:15 PM
Union Square 16 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ann Turnlund - Carver, MSW, Reserach Specialist and PhD Student, Center for Child Well-being, Phoenix, AZ
Qi Wu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, AZ
Background: Infants and toddlers from birth to five have been a focal point of child welfare and child developmental professionals with their unique vulnerabilities and need for healthy social, emotional and physical development. Child welfare practitioners and policy makers aim to understand those children who experience stability after short stays to help determine whether alternatives to out-of-home placement would best address the families need while maintaining the child-parent attachment. While timely reunification is seen as success, reunification followed by subsequent re-entry increases adverse effects on children. Additional research is needed to understand the factors associated with infants and toddlers who experience the shortest stays in care. This study seeks to understand the factors associated with re-entry for children from birth to five years with an initial stay in out-of-home care of thirty days or less.   

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.