Methods: Cases were selected based on an earlier study that used linked birth and child welfare records to identify all pregnant and parenting mothers in foster care and their offspring in California between 2009 and 2012. The prior study conducted a Latent Class Analysis which identified 3 classes of mother-child dyads at varying risk of report and 13 dyads from each class were analyzed for the current study. The content analysis was conducted and a categorization matrix for coding data was developed based on categories that emerged in the “screener” and “investigative” narratives.
Results: Common themes independent of class included (1) drug use disrupted the mother’s parenting, (2) nonminor mothers experienced homelessness, (3) mothers faced repeat sexual abuse, and (3) nearly all received some services. Key themes were identified across all classes.
Class 1, nonminor mothers with long, stable placements, showed: (1) offspring maltreatment reports were less serious, (2) mothers benefitted from family support, (3) father were involved, and (4) mothers feared CPS involvement. Mothers in Class 2, defined by their young age and short periods in care, were the largest class (47%). Common class themes included (1) mothers had experienced recent maltreatment, (2) the mothers’ trauma, young age, and developmental delays compromised parenting, (3) offspring were reported due to neglect and mothers’ lack of knowledge of child development, and (5) fathers were absent/abusive to offspring. Class 3, the smallest class (23%) at highest risk for offspring CPS involvement was defined by their long, unstable placements and mental health conditions. Key themes included (1) offspring were reported for child safety concerns, (2) mothers had comorbid mental health and substance abuse issues, (3) mothers lacked social support, and (4) mothers refused CPS service due to negative experiences in care.
Conclusion and Implications: The study is unique because it married qualitative data in the form of case records to a prior quantitative analysis that developed a LCA, producing new insights about two-generation CPS involvement. The findings identified common experiences and contrasts among different classes, barriers to service provision, and supported the utility of analyzing child welfare case narrative records. It highlighted the life difficulties mothers in care and their offspring face and also offered hope for success. Results show that class membership varies based on the mother’s earlier experiences in care and the reasons for the offspring’s maltreatment report. These findings add substantial depth to the understanding of factors associated with the maltreatment of offspring born to mothers in foster care.