Measuring length of stay in foster care
In our recent survey, most participants said that measuring and managing children’s length of stay in foster care was a top priority for your child welfare system. In response, we wanted to post this reminder that there are many ways to analyze length of stay using the FCDA web tool. The easiest and fastest way is via the Foster Care Profile Report.
The Foster Care Profile Report is a collection of pre-set, canned reports providing trends on major foster care outcomes over the most recent eight years. You can run a Profile Report for your entire state or for any individual county within your state. For a high level look at length of stay in your system, start with these two essential tables:
Table 10: Quartile Duration of First Admissions in Months
The median length of stay is a commonly accepted measure of time spent in foster care. For any foster care entry cohort, the median tells you how long it took for half of those children to exit care. For each entry year, Table 10 reports the median length of stay (50th Percentile) in months. In this jurisdiction, for example, the median duration has risen in recent years, from 6 months among children entering care in 2009 to about 10 months among children entering care in 2015. The table also shows how long it took for 25% and 75% of each entry cohort to exit care. Additionally, Table 10 breaks these findings down by children’s age at entry (not shown).
Table 20: Cumulative Number and Percent Discharged by Exit Type
Table 20 addresses length of stay while also taking into account how children exit foster care. Therefore, you can use this table to learn about the speed and likelihood of various exits. Take the excerpt above, which shows the time to reunification. In this jurisdiction, we see that the likelihood of reunifying within one year has decreased slightly over the years. Of first admissions to care in 2009, 44% reunified within one year; only 39% of children entering care in 2015 reunified within that timeframe. We can also see that eventually, in this particular foster care system, just over half of children reunify with their families.
Table 20 provides this information for exits to reunification, adoption, and relative guardianships, as well as non-permanent exits such as running away and aging out of care. Tables 21 through 24 provide the exact same information for subgroups based on child age.
Remember, all off this is about identifying opportunities for improvement.
To improve outcomes for children in your system, you want to allocate resources strategically. Simple reports like the Foster Care Profile Report provide you with evidence about who in your system is doing well and who needs attention. In the above two reports alone, you can learn how length of stay and permanency vary from county to county, between age groups, and over time. Those observations are the starting points for continuous quality improvement initiatives.
Just the tip of the iceberg…
- Want to access the Profile Reports above? Watch this short tutorial video for easy-to-follow instructions.
- For help interpreting a Profile Report, download the Profile Report Interpretation Guide or find it in the menu bar once you’re inside the web tool.
- Other functions of the web tool provide more much more detailed information on length of stay in foster care. To learn more, view the Length of Stay tutorial video and browse other web tool recipes providing click-by-click instructions on how to answer questions about duration in care.
- Want to compare your state’s Profile Report to other states’? Register for the Public Foster Care Profile. Don’t see your state on the public portal? Contact us to get your state added.