Recipe: How are my comparison groups similar and different?
In the previous Recipe, we found that children entering foster care for the first time stayed in care longer than children who re-entered care after a previous spell. Why might that be? This Recipe shows you how to explore demographic and case-related differences between the comparison groups in your length of stay analysis to help you get closer to the answer.
Question: In my length of stay analysis, I found that first-time entrants stayed in care longer than re-entrants. Are there differences between these two groups that might account for that?
- Follow the steps for the length of stay analysis in the previous Recipe.
- In the upper right hand corner of the output page, click the button labeled Go to Demographic Comparison.
- On the next screen you’ll see a summary of your comparison groups. Under Report Options, select the variables that you’re interested in. To get a sense of what’s available here, select All.
- Then click Display Report.
A box will appear below the Display Report button containing a number of tables displaying the results. Scroll through that internal box to see the similarities and differences between your base population (2007 first admissions) and your comparison population (2007 re-entries) or download a PDF of the entire report by clicking Download PDF at the bottom of the screen.
Here are some (interrelated) findings from the county that I analyzed that may shed light on the length of stay difference that I found in the last inquiry:
One finding is that re-entrants were considerably older than first admissions (see Figure 1). Whereas 65% of re-entrants were age 12 or older when they (re)entered care, only 39% of first admissions fell into this age group. This is not surprising as the group of re-entrants not only contains children entering care for the second time, but also children entering care for the third time, fourth time, fifth time, and so on.
Figure 1: Age at spell start
Another finding is that re-entrants were almost three times more likely to enter foster care directly to a congregate care placement (see Figure 2)—the type of placement from which youth are most likely to run away…
Figure 2: First placement type
…Indeed, re-entrants were over three times more likely exit foster care by running away. And unsurprisingly, they were more than twice as likely to exit care by reaching the age of majority—something that we might expect from re-entrants, given that they were older than first admissions when they began their spell (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Exit type
This Recipe showed you how to use the Demographic Comparison function to explore differences between the groups in your length of stay analysis.
It also illuminates an important point about the difference between children entering care for the first time and children coming back to care after a previous spell—namely that, mostly by virtue of being older and experiencing the placements and exits that older youth are more likely to experience—re-entrants, as a group, usually travel a pathway through the foster care system that is quite different from that of children coming into care for the first time.
Because re-entrants are usually the minority of children entering care during a given time period—for example, in the county above, 56 re-entrants and 146 first admissions came into care during 2007—we usually don’t consider the experience of re-entrants as typical. That’s why most of the Recipes you’ll see in this blog analyze only children entering care for the first time. Usually—not always, but usually—when we have a question about the general experience of children in a given foster care system, we want to know about the experience of the typical child. In those instances, looking exclusively at first admissions gives you the best picture.