While parent engagement is recognized as a core element of child welfare practice, practitioners often struggle to engage parents in involuntary services, such as foster care. Yet, current policy mandates reasonable efforts be made with parents to support family reunification, highlighting the need for effective parent engagement. Few studies have examined parent engagement with foster care-involved parents during early stages of foster care services, and even fewer have explored the relationship between parent engagement and key child welfare outcomes. This exploratory study used data from surveys completed by parents to examine engagement early in their foster care involvement and its relationship with the child welfare outcome of child placement stability. Our research question was: Is early parent engagement associated with children’s placement stability?
A purposive sampling approach was used during a two-year period to invite parents to complete a survey at their initial case plan following a child’s placement into foster care (N=363). Caseworkers presented parents with written materials to inform them of the study and invite their voluntary participation. Measures included the Client Engagement in Child Protective Services Scale - Short Form (Yatchmenoff, 2005), which measured overall engagement with the foster care agency across four dimensions (receptivity, buy-in, working relationship, trust). Following univariate and bivariate analysis, we used binary logistic regression to examine associations between case characteristics, parent engagement, and placement stability.
Out of a maximum score of 70, parent engagement scores ranged from 19 to 70 with an average at moderate levels (M=52.08, SD=10.32). Overall, the logistic regression model for placement stability was statistically significant (χ2(1)=1.116, p<0.001); however, early parent engagement was not associated with placement stability (p=0.298). Statistically significant covariates included financial hardship, removal due to child problems, removal due to parent incapacity, and child’s history of prior foster care episodes. When parents reported financial hardship and removal was due to parental incapacity, children were twice as likely to experience placement stability (financial hardship, OR=2.074, p=0.02); parental incapacity, OR=2.404, p=0.03). Conversely, a decreased likelihood of placement stability was predicted by children having prior foster care episodes (OR=0.272, p<0.01) and removal due to child factors (OR=0.283, p=0.021).
This study adds new knowledge to a growing literature on parent engagement and child welfare outcomes. Results showed parents reported moderate levels of engagement early in a foster care case, indicating this early period may be advantageous for workers to engage parents. Results also suggested that parent challenges, especially financial difficulties and removal due to parental incapacity, were associated with placement stability and may play a pivotal role in children’s foster care outcomes. Consistent with prior studies, child behavior problems predicted decreased likelihood of placement stability. While early parent engagement was not associated with placement stability, future research should consider parent engagement at other points in the case and its relationship to other case factors and outcomes. In sum, this study is one of the first to examine parent engagement with foster care-involved parents and placement stability, offering new insights to the child welfare field.