Abstract: Understanding the Geographic Challenges of Foster Care Placement (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Understanding the Geographic Challenges of Foster Care Placement

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryn Kulbicki, MA/MSA, Doctoral Candidate, George Mason University
Background and Purpose: Children in foster care face many different geographic challenges due to multiple foster care placements, including new schools and new neighborhood environments. Nationally, 35 percent of foster care children have two or more foster care placements (KIDS Count Data Center, 2020). Combining the public health elements of social work (American Public Health Association, 2018) with the spatial provisioning of health care (Dummer, 2008), health geography can enhance the understanding of foster care placements and a child's experience in foster care. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial statistics can help child welfare workers determine access to services, the distance between placements, and socioeconomic indicators across neighborhoods.

Methods: The ecological characteristics of the foster care placements and the home of the child before foster care are examined to understand the relationship of the neighborhood and time spent in foster care and the total number of foster care placements. Spatial hierarchal modeling is used to understand fifteen years of foster care placement data, which consists of 22,456 children who experienced 59,160 placements. Distance measurements used in the model examine the placement change from the child's home before entering foster care and the last foster care placement.

Findings: The use of GIS and spatial statics can help understand the challenges of multiple foster care placements. Using hierarchal models, we can understand the individual foster care experience that children in foster care experience. This can help practitioners understand the importance of the neighborhood of the child's home before they enter foster care and neighborhood characteristics of the foster care placement(s), and the neighborhood changes at each foster care placement.

Conclusion and Implications: There is a significant opportunity to link geographic methods to social work research to understand the geographic elements of a child's foster care experience. In particular, there is a substantial opportunity to grow our understanding of how the geographic experience is influential to children with multiple placements in foster care. Placement instability contributes to the negative outcomes of foster youth. Thus, implementing geographic practices to determine the best placement for children will strengthen organizational operations and systems, and thereby improve the capacity of the child welfare system.