Infants and Teens More Likely to Experience Foster Care Reentry

Posted January 13, 2020
Infants and teenagers most likely to return to foster care

Chil­dren who have exit­ed fos­ter care are more like­ly to return to care if they are infants, in their ear­ly teen years or have expe­ri­enced a group place­ment before reunit­ing with their fam­i­lies, accord­ing to a new study con­duct­ed by the Cen­ter for State Child Wel­fare Data and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Down­load Reen­try to Fos­ter Care

In addi­tion to assess­ing a child’s risk of return­ing to fos­ter care after dis­charge, the study — Reen­try to Fos­ter Care — explores how child wel­fare agen­cies can iden­ti­fy kids who might ben­e­fit from evi­dence-based inter­ven­tions avail­able through the Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act.

Based on a sam­ple of more than 600,000 chil­dren in 20 states, the research cov­ers a sev­en-year win­dow from 2003 and 2010. It exam­ines the tra­jec­to­ries of chil­dren who exit­ed their first stay in care before age 18 to be reunit­ed with their fam­i­lies or placed with guardians. Fol­low-up analy­sis con­tin­ued through Dec. 312017.

To assess the risk of reen­ter­ing fos­ter care after reuni­fi­ca­tion or place­ment with a guardian, researchers looked at three clus­ters of vari­ables: 1) child char­ac­ter­is­tics, includ­ing race and eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der and age; 2) place­ment his­to­ry, such as the type of place­ment and length of stay; and 3) social con­text — the extent of socioe­co­nom­ic dis­ad­van­tage, for example.

When a child has left fos­ter care to live with fam­i­ly, the last thing we want is for them to need to return,” says Rod­ney Brit­ting­ham, asso­ciate direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. As states devel­op their plans for tak­ing advan­tage of Fam­i­ly First, this research can help child wel­fare agen­cies focus on fam­i­lies and young peo­ple who can ben­e­fit the most from ser­vices that help them stay together.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Of the near­ly 460,000 kids who left their first stay in fos­ter care to reunite with fam­i­lies, 27% returned to care
  • Of the more than 147,000 kids who left their first stay in fos­ter care for guardian­ship, 17% returned to care.
  • In both reuni­fi­ca­tion and guardian­ship sce­nar­ios, a child’s risk of reen­ter­ing fos­ter care is great­est soon after their dis­charge from care.
  • The risk of reen­try increas­es when chil­dren become teenagers, with rates peak­ing at 14 and 15 years old.
  • Among kids of all ages: Infants run the great­est risk of reen­ter­ing care, regard­less of how they exit­ed the system.
  • Chil­dren who expe­ri­ence a group place­ment right before reuni­fi­ca­tion are about 20% more like­ly to reen­ter the sys­tem ver­sus kids who exit via a tra­di­tion­al fos­ter home.
  • For kids ages 11 and younger, white chil­dren are more like­ly to return to care than African-Amer­i­can or Lati­no children.
  • Among old­er chil­dren (ages 12 and up) reen­try rates are high­est among African-Amer­i­can youth.

The study’s authors, Fred Wul­czyn, Flo­rie Schmits and Scott Huhr, rec­om­mend that state and local child wel­fare agen­cies pay close atten­tion to two groups that might ben­e­fit sub­stan­tial­ly from the pre­ven­tive ser­vices fund­ed by the Fam­i­ly First Act: 1) very young chil­dren — espe­cial­ly infants who enter, leave and return to care before their first birth­day; and 2) old­er youth, includ­ing those who may have been dis­charged from care many years earlier.

Learn about three key fis­cal con­sid­er­a­tions for imple­ment­ing the Fam­i­ly First Act

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