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.