Abstract: Academic Trajectories Among Children in Foster and Kinship Care (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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219P Academic Trajectories Among Children in Foster and Kinship Care

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Tyreasa Washington, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
C. Joy Stewart, MSW, PhD Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Roderick Rose, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background: Children’s academic achievement places them on a positive trajectory; consequently, children’s academic deficits are risks for mental health and substance use problems, behaviors problems, and delinquency. Unfortunately, many children in out-of-home care (OOHC; i.e., foster, formal kinship, and informal kinship care) are at risk for negative academic outcomes. There is a significant amount of research on general characteristics, family background, and behavioral and mental health functioning of children in OOHC, but less is focused on their academic outcomes. The research that does exist shows deficits in performance among children who reside in foster and formal kinship care compared to children who are living with at least one of their biological or adoptive parents. The current study is unique because it includes children in informal kinship care, an OOHC group that is not supervised by the child welfare system and who are often left out of this type of inquiry. Their inclusion requires the linkage of academic and child welfare data. The aim of our study is to examine the academic trajectories of children in OOHC and whether kinship care has a protective effect on children’s academic performance relative to foster care.

Methods: Data and Sample: The analysis sample consists of all children in North Carolina schools in the 3rd to 6th grade range in the school year 2009-10, with a focus on children with a history of OOHC in either foster, formal kinship, or informal kinship settings. These youth were followed for 3 academic years. Four longitudinal administrative data sources including education and child welfare data, were merged to create this unique sample of 519,306 children.

Measures: The End of the Grade (EOG) scale scores in math and reading from 3rd to 8th grades were used as dependent variables. EOG math and reading scores are developmentally scaled, with scores that indicate proficiency at grade level rising from one grade to the next. An accelerated cohort design was used to ensure all grades from 3rd to 8th were represented. A repeated measures multilevel model was used to estimate the association between types of OOHC and academic performance.

Results: After controlling for important covariates, findings revealed no difference in academic trajectories between formal kinship and non-OOHC, but showed differences between foster, informal, and non-OOHC. Children whose relative placements are supervised by child welfare (formal kinship) have academic outcomes better than children in foster care or children in relative placements that are not supervised by the child welfare system. Kinship care did have some protective effects as children in both formal and informal kinship care had higher math scores than children in foster care.

Implications: Given the finding that the informal group outperformed the foster group, but still fell considerably behind their non-OOHC peers, we need additional research to better understand the experiences of children in informal kinship care. Additionally, this group's academic struggles relative to non-OOHC children has policy implications as it highlights the need to reduce barriers to services that may assist these children in succeeding academically.