Reentry to Foster Care: Identifying Candidates Under the Family First Act
Data Center staff recently completed a report entitled “Reentry to Foster Care: Identifying Candidates Under the Family First Act”, which can be downloaded by clicking here.
Context and Purpose
The Family First Prevention Services Act provides federal funding for evidence-based interventions for children who are at risk of coming into foster care (i.e., “candidates”). Most conversations are focused on services that prevent children from entering out of home care for the first time. However, there’s an equally important group of children at risk of placement into foster care: children who are at risk of returning to care. They, too, may benefit from the services made available through the Family First Prevention Services Act.
To address this policy question, we looked at three sets of risk factors with regard to the risk of returning to care: (1) demographic characteristics of children, (2) placement history, and (3) elapsed time since the exit from care (reunification or guardianship). In addition, we examined how contextual factors measured at the county-level influence the risk of reentry. Finally, we considered period effects related to the Great Recession. Essentially, we are interested in whether reentry rates changed during the time of the economic downturn among children specifically at risk of returning to care during that period.
What Did We Find?
We expected that children who had unstable placements, returned home, or were discharged to guardianship after short spells in care, would face the highest risk of reentry. Results confirmed our expectations. Children who experienced changes in care type during their preceding placement had a significantly higher risk of reentry than children who did not experience changes in care type. Children who were discharged to reunification after a short spell (less than 6 months) had a significantly higher risk of reentry than children whose prior time in care was more than 6 months.
The subgroup analysis pointed to groups of children with especially high rates of reentry. Infants regardless of how they leave care are the children at greatest risk. For older children leaving congregate care, rates of reentry were also elevated. The results of our model also showed a significant developmental effect: the risk of reentry increases when children become teenagers, regardless of when they were last in placement. Reentry rates peak for 14- and 15-year-olds. This increase in risk is most prominent for children who exit to guardianship. From a policy and practice perspective, this is a particularly challenging finding.
It would be wise for state and local child welfare agencies to pay close attention to very young children, especially infants who enter care, leave, and then return to care before their first birthday. On the whole, their numbers are relatively small, but the risk of reentry is substantial. Given what we know about the importance of safe and stable families, especially for infants and toddlers, few subgroups offer a more obvious way to improve outcomes. The same can be said for older youth who have had some prior time in foster care, regardless of how recent. In the end, these two groups plus others waiting to be discovered would benefit substantially from investments in the sort of services Family First offers to states.