As an evaluative criterion of child welfare performance, placement stability is critical in order for children to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being in out-of-home care. However, up to half of children (33-50%) in the United States’ foster care system have multiple placements during their time in care. Placement instability is deleterious to children’s short-term and long-term well-being. The study’s aims were to (a) measure time-to-initial placement change in different types of settings, including non-relative foster homes, kinship care, Residential Treatment Center (RTC), group homes and other types of settings, and (b) identify predictors of the initial placement change among children in out-of-home care.
Methods: The data were obtained from the State Automated Child Welfare Information System operated by the child welfare agency in Mid-Atlantic state. The sample included a cohort of 4,177 children who were entered into the foster care system between 2015 and 2016. These children were followed for three years to examine whether they would experience a change in placement. Descriptive, bivariate, and survival Cox regression models were conducted. Overall, the children’s average age was 7.16 (SD = 5.90) at their entry to care, 51% were females, and 54% were Black. Most of the children were placed at their first entry in family foster homes (60%), then in kinship care (21%), group homes (9%), RTCs (2%), and “other” types of placements (8%).
Results: More than half of the children (53%, n = 2,231) experienced a change in placement within three years. For children in RTCs the mean length for an initial change in placement was the longest: 24 months, followed by 22 months for children in kinship care, 19 months for children in foster homes, 15 months for children in group homes, and 6.5 moths for children in the “other” group. Several risk factors were found to increase the likelihood of placement change, including: older age at entry (HR = 1.01, p<0.001), child behavior problems (HR = 1.26, p<0.001), parental substance abuse (HR = 1.12, p<0.05), and cases in which the parents gave up their parental rights to the child (HR = 1.12, p<0.05). Moreover, the risk for a change in placement was lower for children in kinship care, as well for children in RTC, compared to children in foster homes.
Conclusions and Implications:
The results of this study indicate that prioritizing the placement of children in more stable out-of-home care, such as kinship care, will increase the child’s stability. However, cases in which the child is placed in foster home, it is essential to provide more services to support the foster family. Additionally, older children and children with behavioral problems are at increased risk for placement change. Therefore, providing early interventions and intensive services to these children is critical. Also, children with substance using parents and with parents who voluntarily gave up their rights are also at higher risk for placement change. Providing services and treatment for parents with substance abuse issues are essential to decreasing the likelihood of increased placements.