Abstract: Equity and Effectiveness of Private-Public Collaboration in Providing Transition Housing Placements in California (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Equity and Effectiveness of Private-Public Collaboration in Providing Transition Housing Placements in California

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Sunggeun (Ethan) Park, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Huiling Feng, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Nathanael Okpych, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford
Mark Courtney, PhD, Samuel Deutsch Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: In the past several decades, significant public human service provision responsibilities have been transferred from state government to local governments and private organizations. Under California’s decentralized child welfare system, the 58 county child welfare departments have significant discretion in allocating resources, including contracting out THP-NMD services -- specialized placement options for older foster youths who need intensive supervision and comprehensive supportive services (e.g., vocational training, behavioral health treatment). Despite the potential for THP-NMDs to support vulnerable foster youths’ transition to adulthood, to our knowledge, there has been no assessment of their service accessibility or performance. This study examines the following two questions: (1) To what extent THP-NMD providers offer equitable access to transition-age foster youth across California? (2) Do some THP-NMD providers produce better outcomes than others?

Methods: We use California state child welfare systems data (CWS), unemployment insurance wage data, and national student clearinghouse data. Using CWS data, we identified 63 nonprofit providers who offered at least one THP-NMD placement between 2016 and 2018 and 5,895 youths served by those providers in the same period. For each THP-NMD provider, we assessed youths’ outcomes in three domains: employment, postsecondary education, and undesirable discharge (i.e., incarceration, hospitalization, running away, or involuntary removal). We first estimated the percentage of 18-21-year-old foster youth in California placed in a THP-NMD in each county. Then, we estimated youths’ employment, postsecondary education, and undesirable discharge outcomes for THP-NMD providers using mixed-effects models. Our models controlled for characteristics of youth (e.g., demographic characteristics, foster care history) and counties (e.g., fair-market rent) to produce youth- and county-level context-adjusted estimates.

Results: Among 53 counties THP-NMD providers served at least one youth between 2016 and 2018, we observed significant between-county variation in the percentage of youth in extended foster care served by THP-NMD providers: 12%~40% among 12 large urban counties, including Los Angeles County; 1%~57% among 19 urban counties; and 3%~77% among 22 rural counties. We also found provider performance varied significantly in all three domains after controlling for youth and county-level attributes. For example, 43% of youth placed in THP-NMD ever enrolled in college. But youth in some THP-NMD providers were more or less likely to enroll in college (ranging from 27% to 75%, p<.05). Acknowledging many providers offered THP-NMD in multiple counties, we ran supplemental analyses with the ten largest THP-NMD providers, which also controlled for the percentage of youth a THP-NMD provider served in each county. Interestingly, most differences across providers were erased except for few exceptions.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides a valuable opportunity to examine whether public-private collaboration resulted in equitable and effective human service provision, using THP-NMD in California as a case. Transition-age foster youth may face unequal opportunity to receive the intensive supervision and support offered by THP-NMD placements. Some providers seemed to better perform than others. However, the supplemental analyses suggest that differences in provider performance are largely due to the counties they serve. Our empirical evidence has important implications on the optimal arrangements in public-private relationships.