Abstract: A Statewide Assessment of Group Home Size and Law Enforcement Contact (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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193P A Statewide Assessment of Group Home Size and Law Enforcement Contact

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Andrew Garcia, BS, Research Assistant/Author, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Jacquelyne Sandoval, BS, Research Assistant/Author, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Carly Dierkhising, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Across the nation there has been a movement to reduce the use of group care settings due to the widespread recognition of the harmful effects and overuse of this type of living environment for children and youth (Dozier et al., 2014). For example, experience in group care has been identified as contributing to youth crossing over from the child welfare to juvenile justice system. Specifically, youth with a history of at least one stay in a group home are 2.4 times more likely to be arrested and 40% of all arrests among foster youth are correlated with group home stays (Ryan et al., 2008). The current study assesses the landscape of group homes in California, the amount and type of law enforcement contact with youth in group homes, and whether group home size is associated with law enforcement (LE) contact.

Incident data from 2018 was obtained from the California Department of Social Services consistent with statutory requirements requiring these data to be publicly available. Data files included group home names, location by County, facility capacity (i.e., size), frequency of LE contact, the reason for LE contact, and the outcomes of contact. At the state level, group homes were categorized by size based on capacity (i.e., available beds): small (up to 6 youth), medium (7-23 youth), large (24-48 youth), and extra-large (49 or more). The majority of group homes in California (N = 882) were small (84.9%), followed by medium (9.3%), large (2.8%), and extra-large (2.9%). Across all homes LE contact varied greatly (M = 28.46; SD =135.825) with the most common reason for LE contact due to the youth leaving care without permission (e.g., AWOL: 93%) and most common outcome was returning the youth to the home (87%).

A one-way ANOVA revealed a significant difference in the amount of LE contact based on the size of the group home (F (3, 878) = 41.68, p < .001). Post hoc analyses indicate that the extra-large group homes had significantly more LE contact compared to all other sizes. Data were then dis-aggregated to assess whether this finding was consistent across counties. Ten of the 28 counties that had variation in group home sizes had significant differences in LE contact based on group home size. While each County had variations in which homes differed, overall, larger group homes had significantly more LE contact.

Across California in 2018, LE was called to a group home about 10 times a day with larger group homes having significantly more frequent calls to LE. However, this finding varied by County which suggests that there are County-level practices or policies that either buffer against or intensify the association between group home size and LE contacts. These results suggest that when group care must be used the smaller group home option may reduce the likelihood of LE contact for foster youth. Future research should compare group care practices and policies between the counties that have more LE contact in larger group homes and those that don’t.