Method: This study used data from a parent engagement survey completed by parents early in their foster care involvement (i.e., within 30 days of removal) and later in their foster care case (i.e., within 6 months of removal) in one Midwestern state. The sample comprised 341 parents at Time 1 and 113 parents at Time 2. The Client Engagement in Child Protection Services Scale – Short Form (CECPS – Short Form) was used to measure parent engagement. The CECPS – Short Form is a 14-item measure that includes four subscales: receptivity, buy-in, working relationship, and mistrust. Parent engagement data were matched with state administrative data to develop the dependent variable of reunification and covariates of race/ethnicity, age, child disability, number of siblings in care, number of prior foster care episodes, financial hardship, and parent substance misuse. The Kaplan-Meier method, a bivariate survival analysis technique, was used to answer questions regarding time to reunification. Multivariate Cox regression was used to examine if parent engagement predicted reunification.
Results: Early parent engagement did not predict higher rates of reunification (HR = 1.003, p = .75, 95% CI [0.99 – 1.02]) or shorter time to reunification (p = .67). Children of parents who reported high early engagement spent 19 fewer days in foster care than children of parents with low early engagement, though this relationship was not statistically significant. Later parent engagement was significantly associated with an increased likelihood of reunification (HR = 1.05, p = .02, 95% CI [1.01 – 1.09]) and shorter time to reunification (p = .04). The working relationship (HR = 1.19, p = .008) and mistrust (HR = 1.20, p = .017) subscales of the engagement measure were significantly associated with reunification. Children whose parents had higher later engagement scores spent 178 fewer days in foster care than children whose parents had lower later engagement scores (p = .04).
Conclusion: This study is one of the first to examine parent engagement in child welfare longitudinally. Findings suggest high parent engagement later in foster care services may be associated with an increased likelihood of reunification and fewer days in foster care. This finding indicates a need for ongoing parent engagement efforts throughout a family’s foster care involvement. Findings suggest working relationship and trust may play a key role in supporting parent engagement later in foster care services.