Abstract: Support for Coparenting, Attachment, and Development May Improve Permanence and Wellbeing for Infants and Toddlers in Child Welfare (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Support for Coparenting, Attachment, and Development May Improve Permanence and Wellbeing for Infants and Toddlers in Child Welfare

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Monica Faulkner, PHD, Director, Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, Austin, TX
Kaitlyn Doerge, MSSW, Research Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Laura Marra, MSSW, Research Director, Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: Infants and toddlers are the largest age group of children in foster care. The critical developmental period during infancy and toddlerhood requires secure, stable care and attachment to caregivers in order to grow and heal from maltreatment. The SafeBabies Program aims to lessen the impact of child maltreatment, increase the likelihood of family reunification by working with birth parents, caregivers (foster and kinship), and professionals to strengthen coparenting relationships between birth parents and caregivers and to meet the needs of infants and toddlers, especially around transitions such as visitations and placement changes. This studied evaluated the SafeBabies program in two urban counties to answer the question: Do children who participate in Safe Babies have better permanence and wellbeing outcomes than children who do not participate in the program?

Methods: The evaluation utilizes a concurrent mixed method design. Administrative data from the state child welfare agency and Early Childhood Intervention Program is used to compare outcomes for children in SafeBabies (n= 103) and children not in SafeBabies (n=8,817). Chi-square tests using the Welch approximation were used to compare exit outcomes, re-entry within 6-months and re-entry within 12 months. Independent sample t-tests were used to compare months to permanence and months to return home. A process evaluation included surveys of birth parents, caregivers, and professionals who participate in the program. Qualitative data was collected from birth parent, caregiver, and professional interviews and was analyzed using content analysis. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded independently by two members of the research team using Dedoose, and analyzed in Microsoft Excel.

Results: Time to permanence was significantly shorter for children in Safe Babies than for children toddlers who were not in Safe Babies (t=-5.36, df=65,23, p=<.001). Additionally, a higher percentage of children in Safe Babies returned home than those not in Safe Babies (Χ2= 21.50, df=5, p=.001). However, there were no differences in re-entry into foster care between the groups. Qualitative data suggests birth parents and caregivers felt SafeBabies helped them build trust and communication. Birth parents, caregivers, and professionals reported that the COVID-19 pandemic posed major challenges to navigating the child welfare system, and birth parents reported that Safe Babies helped them overcome pandemic-related hurdles.

Conclusion and Implications:

Findings suggest that Safe Babies is helping reunify children with their families and/or achieve permanency in a shorter timeframe. Birth parents, caregivers, and professionals have a strong understanding and alignment around coparenting between birth parents and caregivers, supporting the development and attachment needs of children, and coordinating services and care that support the overall wellbeing of children. Safe Babies is also contributing to the culture shift toward support for coparenting, attachment and development needs of young children, and family reunification.