Infants and Teens More Likely to Experience Foster Care Reentry

Posted January 13, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
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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