Abstract: A Population-Level Birth Cohort Study Terminations of Parental Rights (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

A Population-Level Birth Cohort Study Terminations of Parental Rights

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Eunhye AHN, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
John Prindle, PhD, Research Faculty, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Emily Putnam-Hornstein, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Each year in the U.S., approximately ten percent of children in foster care experience a termination of parental rights (TPR) (i.e., a legal termination of the relationship to their parents). Despite the significance of this legal action that severs the most fundamental of relationships, that of a child to his or her parents, this is the first study to estimate the number of children who experience a TPR. In this study, we examined the incidence of children who experience a termination of parental rights between birth and age 18. These data are relevant to both understanding the application of existing TPR policies at a population-level and supporting discussions surrounding programs that would lead to the proactive identification of children at high risk of experiencing a TPR.

Methods: California’s vital birth and Child Protective Services (CPS) records reflecting all children born in 1999 were matched based on a probabilistic linkage algorithm. This file reflected child and parent information as well as linkages to the child’s protection records through the end of 2017. Birth records were used to code sociodemographic and pregnancy-related variables, which include child’s sex, race/ethnicity, child’s birth weight, maternal age, child’s birth order, type of insurance for payment, mother’s level of education, prenatal care beginning point, and paternity establishment at delivery. CPS records were used to document first-ever CPS involvement events between child’s birth and age 18.

Results: Among 519,248 children born in California in 1999, almost one third (299.13 per 1,000) were ever reported to CPS for alleged abuse or neglect before age 18. Approximately 43.54 per 1,000 of children in the birth cohort experienced at least one removal and foster care placement. Of the 1999 birth cohort, 11.01 per 1,000 of the experienced a TPR before they reached age 18, and the majority of them (62.7%) occurred before age 5. Risk factors identified on the birth record showed positive associations with CPS referral, foster care placement, and TPR. Despite the relatively higher odds of CPS referrals and foster care placement for Black children in comparison to White children, Black children were less likely to experience a TPR compared to White children (OR=0.65, p<.0001).

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides a method to gauge the first nationwide estimation of longitudinal TPR risk. This study also highlights the need to address the disparate experience of Black children. They are more likely to be reported to CPS and placed in foster care compared to White children, they have lower odds of experiencing a TPR. This is supported by previous findings that Black children have a significantly lower risk of TPR although they are also less likely to be reunified with their parents or placed in permanent care, such as adoption. Estimation of cumulative number of TPR could justify policies in the name of child safety, such as “birth match” programs, which identify children born to parents who had previously lost their parental rights.