Abstract: Reunification for Children with Inadequate Housing Removals: A Longitudinal Analysis of Afcars Data (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Reunification for Children with Inadequate Housing Removals: A Longitudinal Analysis of Afcars Data

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rong Bai, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Boston College
Jeffrey Albert, Professor, Case Western Reserve University, OH
Cyleste Collins, PhD, Assistant Professor, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: As of September, 30 2018, there were 437,283 children in foster care, and 56% had a goal of reunification with a primary caregiver. Despite the fact that promoting timely and safe reunification is one of the priorities of the child welfare system, less than half of children (49%) are reunified with parent(s) or primary caregivers each year. Among this population, children from housing unstable families are particularly vulnerable, as they are more likely to have extensive stays in the foster care system, and less likely to achieve desired outcomes as compared to low-income stably housed families. Research has found child welfare workers and judges tend to be reluctant to send such children home without stable housing in place. A growing body of literature demonstrates that housing problems were not the sole reason for child removal. Families with housing instability often struggle with other challenges in their lives, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health problems (Bai et al., 2020). To our knowledge, no study has explored the reunification outcomes for housing unstable families with other removal reasons. Thus, this study aims to examine whether housing problems interact with other reasons for removal in explaining the likelihood of reunification.

Methods: Using data (N=1,391,360) obtained from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) between 2009 to 2019, this study examined time to reunification for families who have inadequate housing and other removal reasons. Robust Cox regression analysis was used to estimate hazards ratios for potential predictors while accounting for censoring.

Results: Descriptive analyses showed that 9.6% of families had inadequate housing as the removal reason, and 13.7% of families had inadequate housing and substance abuse as removal reasons. Cox regression analyses indicated that, controlling for child’s race, age, and number of removals, children had a lower probability of reunification when they had inadequate housing and substance abuse as removal reasons. The hazard ratio for the effect of inadequate housing decreased when substance abuse (Ratio of Hazards Ratios (HRR) = 0.98, 95% CI = (0.97, 0.995)) and child behavior problems (HRR=0.96, 95% CI = (0.94,0.98)) was added as a reason for removal. Effects on the likelihood of reunification were not found for interactions of inadequate housing with other removal reasons, such as parental incarceration (HRR=1.01, 95% CI = (0.99,1.02)).

Conclusions and Implications: This study, using data from AFCARS, begins to shed some light on key risk factors of reunification. When children are from a family struggling with inadequate housing and substance abuse in combination, the likelihood of reunification is significantly lower. Inadequate housing may not be the sole reason for foster care entry, but when it occurs with other risk factors like substance abuse and child behavior problems, it may magnify barriers for family reunification. Therefore, providing wrap-around resources is critical for these vulnerable families.