Abstract: Childhood Poverty and Foster Care Placement: Implications for Practice and Policy (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Childhood Poverty and Foster Care Placement: Implications for Practice and Policy

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Darejan Dvalishvili, MD, MSW, Ph.D Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Melissa Jonson-Reid, MSW, PhD, Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Brett Drake, MSW, PhD, Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, MO
Background. About 6% of US children enter foster care at some point before age 18. Children living in poverty enter more frequently than non-poor children. Black, Native and Hispanic children are both more likely to experience poverty at the family and community level and are more likely to enter care. Despite several studies exploring the association between poverty and child welfare involvement, it is less clear if specific dimensions of poverty place a child at risk of foster care entry. This study adds to our understanding of poverty and foster care entry by exploring the effect of developmental timing of poverty, income assistance receipt and community poverty controlling for maltreatment history and other child and family characteristics.

Methods. Data were drawn from a large linked administrative data study following low income children sampled in 1993-1994 with and without maltreatment reports through 2010. Data included birth and death records, child maltreatment and child welfare services data, department of mental health Medicaid and non-Medicaid programs and income maintenance data (AFDC and later TANF). Addresses were geocoded and linked with census information at the tract level. Data included all system contacts by date and included child and parent demographic characteristics as well as diagnoses and/or reasons for system contact. In order to capture indicators of family poverty from birth, the present sample was limited to children not in foster care at baseline with matches to birth records (n=8,006) and followed-up through 2009 to examine first entries into foster care. Survival analyses were used to control for length of time at risk censoring at time of entry into care, age 18, end of study, or death. Poverty was measured at birth (Medicaid, WIC or Food stamps), by number of spells on income maintenance during the risk period, and tract poverty.

Results. A Cox regression model controlled for clustering at the tract level. Preliminary results indicate that while controlling for other child and parent demographics and number of reports of maltreatment, children with indicators of poverty at birth (HR:1.553, CI:1.393-1.731, p<0.0001), and children who lived in poor neighborhoods at baseline had a higher risk for foster care placement (HR:1.695, CI:1.324-2.172, p<0.0001). The number of spells of income maintenance during the risk period was associated with a decrease in risk of foster care placement (HR=0.690, CI:0.660-0.721, p<0.0001).

Implications: Preliminary results indicate that there are specific dimensions of poverty that are associated with later entry into care. Implications vary by metric. For example, the importance of poverty at birth may lend support for early intervention (such as home visiting) paired with material resources. The lowered risk associated with number of spells may be a proxy for a family’s ability to access needed resources over time and is consistent with more recent data suggesting connections between time limits for income assistance and risk of maltreatment. Poverty in the community may be a proxy for lack of services to support at risk families.