Recipe: Length of stay over time
One of the main indicators of permanency for children in foster care is length of stay—the amount of time children spend in care. As child welfare agencies strive to keep children in foster care as briefly as possible, tracking length of stay trends is essential. In this first Recipe, I use the web tool to conduct a simple analysis of length of stay.
In this Recipe, I walk through a simple length of stay analysis. Note that this Recipe uses the FCDA’s Multistate site—the part of the site that allows you to compare counties within your state and compare your state to others. Working with your state- or agency-specific site will be discussed in later Recipes. For now, know that these different sites share the same basic functions; you will be able to apply what you learn here to the other interfaces.
Question: How long do children in my jurisdiction stay in foster care? Has length of stay changed over time?
- On the All spells page, scroll down to the Sample selection section. Enter 01-01-2007 in the From box and 12-31-2007 in the To box. This tells the system that you want to examine all children in the 2007 entry cohort.
- Scroll down to the Define Output section. Under Population Nickname, enter the words “2007 entries”.
- Then, under Build report, select Length of Stay and then click Build report.
- On the next screen, click Population comparison. This tells the system that you want to compare your base population (all 2007 entrants) to a different group of children from the same geographic area.
- At the top of the next screen, you will see a description of your base population. Scroll down to the Sample selection section and enter 01-01-2008 in the From box and 12-31-2008 in the To box. This tells the system that you want to compare your base population (all 2007 entrants) to children who all children who entered care in 2008.
- Under Population Nickname, enter the words “2008 entries”. Then click Submit.
The next screen shows the results of your query. Below is the output (annotated) for the state that I selected:
The steps above enabled us to compare the length of stay of children entering care in 2007 to that of children entering care in 2008. But suppose you were interested in examining trends over a longer period of time. Continue with the steps below to add more entry cohorts to the analysis.
- On the page containing your results, scroll down to the bottom and click Add Comparison Population. This feature allows you to add an additional comparison group to the analysis.
- Scroll down to the Sample selection section and enter 01-01-2009 in the From box and 12-31-2009 in the To box. This tells the system that you want to add the 2009 entry cohort to the analysis.
- Under Population Nickname, enter the words “2009 entries”. Then click Submit.
Your revised chart will appear with the new comparison group added in a different color (indicated by the green arrows below):
The web tool allows you add up to five comparison populations. In this case, that means you can create a graph showing trends for six different entry cohorts and examine changes in length of stay over all those years. Retrace the steps above to add additional entry cohorts to the analysis.
In this Recipe, you learned how to use the web tool to compare the length of stay of children in multiple entry cohorts in your jurisdiction. This analysis is a good basis for understanding how long children stay in foster care, but it’s just a starting point. As in all research, the answers to this inquiry raise additional questions. For example, the Recipe above measures length of stay for all children entering care during the years that we identified—but within a given entry cohort, is length of stay longer for some children than it is for others? If so, which children experience longer lengths of stay and what is it about those subgroups of children that might account for the difference? These are the kinds of questions that allow you to dig deeper into the data and pinpoint areas for policy and practice interventions. In upcoming Recipes, I’ll use the web tool to investigate these questions and more…