Abstract: What Predicts Informal Discontinuity for Adoptive and Guardianship Families? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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What Predicts Informal Discontinuity for Adoptive and Guardianship Families?

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ahwatukee B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kevin White, PhD, Assistant Professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Amy Korsch-Williams, MSSA, Senior Instructor, Case Western Reserve University, Clevland
Nancy Rolock, PhD, Henry L. Zucker Associate Professor of Social Work Practice, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Laura Marra, MSSW, Research Director, Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, Austin, TX
Rong Bai, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Boston College
Monica Faulkner, PHD, Director, Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, Austin, TX
Kerrie Ocasio, PhD, Assistant Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Rowena Fong, EdD, Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: Previous studies have used administrative records to capture foster care re-entry as an indicator of formal post-permanency discontinuity (PPD). These studies suggest that approximately 15% of youth who exited foster care to adoption or guardianship later experience formal post-permanency instability, or discontinuity. However, PPD is a broad concept that encompasses various types of discontinuity, and few studies have examined informal types of discontinuity not captured by administrative records. This study aims to explore: 1) the prevalence of informal post-permanency discontinuity and 2) the demographic and wellbeing characteristics of children and families associated with informal discontinuity.

Methods: Using data from surveys conducted with adoptive parents and guardians in four states (n=2750), informal PPD was defined as a child or youth spending two weeks or longer in one of the following settings after exiting foster care to adoption or guardianship: residential or hospital setting, juvenile justice setting, homeless or having run away from home. First, descriptive and bivariate analyses were conducted. Next, logistic regression was estimated with informal PPD as the outcome and child and caregiver demographic variables (age, race, gender, income, kinship, education, family structure, and permanency type) and child wellbeing variables (reading and math ability and engagement in extracurricular or religious activities) as predictors. Finally, a backwards stepwise regression procedure was performed, using AIC as the selection criterion.

Results: Descriptive analyses showed that 8% of respondents reported experiencing informal PPD. Bivariate analyses showed that children of color (COC) were more likely than white children to engage in religious activities (51% compared to 39%, respectively; χ2(1)= 22.05, p>.001); however, there were no statistically significant differences in informal PPD by child race. The full regression model showed good fit (χ2(16)=19.87, p=.23) and indicated that kinship (OR=0.54, p<.01), higher family income (OR=0.90, p=.03), and engagement in extracurricular (OR=0.40, p<.001) and religious (OR=0.58, p=.01) activities were associated with less informal PPD, controlling for other variables. The backwards stepwise regression procedure arrived at a model consistent with the full one, containing the same four covariates which were indicated as significant in the full model.

Conclusions: This study expands our understanding of some difficulties children and families face after adoption or guardianship that may not result in a return to foster care, but may result in placement instability not captured by child welfare administrative data. Kinship care was a protective factor for preventing PPD, providing additional support for policies and practices designed to keep families together. In addition, higher family incomes were protective, providing further evidence of the need to address poverty. Extracurricular and religious activities (e.g., sports and youth groups, respectively) were also negatively associated with informal PPD, suggesting practical avenues for supporting families formed through adoption or guardianship. In previous research, religiosity has predicted lower stress in adoptive parenting while spirituality and family support have been found to increase adoption satisfaction in African American children. Post-permanency services should be targeted at families most at-risk for formal and informal PPD.