Abstract: A Methodology for Describing Foster Care Placement Pathways (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

319 A Methodology for Describing Foster Care Placement Pathways

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Pacific D/L (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Bethany Godlewski, MS, PhD Candidate, Graduate Research Assistant, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Bowen McBeath, PhD, Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Jeffrey David Waid, PhD, Graduate Research Assistant, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Brianne H. Kothari, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Oregon State University-Cascades, Bend, OR
Lew Bank, Ph.D., Research Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Introduction: A challenge for child welfare agencies is identifying foster youth at risk of experiencing multiple placements. Youth are more likely to experience multiple placements and “foster care drift” if they are non-Caucasian, have mental health needs, are older, and have tenuous connections to parental figures and caseworkers (Kim, Pears, & Fisher, 2012; Wulczyn et al., 2003). Although child welfare systems are required to track the placement histories of foster youth, no established method exists to document placement pathways or differentiate among youth experiencing different pathways. This study used longitudinal state administrative data to test a promising methodology for describing foster care placement pathways.

Method: All available placement data from the Oregon Department of Human Services for 245 youth who had been universally recruited for participation in an RCT-based test of a sibling relationship intervention (McBeath et al., 2014) were used to develop a set of flowcharts describing youth placement pathways. Bysort and summarize commands in Stata 14 generated information needed to create flowcharts in OmniGraffle 5. Flowcharts used unique shapes representing the following types of foster placements: relative, non-relative, residential, and trial reunification. Flowcharts depicted the sequence of placements experienced by youth; the size of shapes was modified so that larger shapes corresponded to greater numbers of youth in that placement.

Results: At foster care entry, youth were between birth-16 years of age (m=8.40; sd=3.8). About half of the youth were female (51%), and 53% identified as non-white. Youth experienced a maximum of 29 placements, although 60% had 4 or fewer placements. Most youth were in relative care during the first placement (55%; n=132), with fewer youth in non-relative care (33%; n=85) and residential care (7%; n=19). Youth who started in relative care had the lowest average number of placements (m=4.78; sd=4.5) and the longest initial placement length (in days) (m=264; sd=488) when compared to non-relative care placements (m=4.81; sd=4.7) and length (m=149; sd=300), and residential care (m=5.63; sd=2.9) and length (m=25; sd=33). 

Discussion: Describing foster care placement pathways is a step in the development of interventions to reduce the risk of youth experiencing foster care drift. Our findings suggest that the pathways experienced by study youth were heterogeneous, although the most common placements reflected non-relative and relative settings. Future research should seek to identify the characteristics of youth who are more likely to experience different placement pathways as well as the wellbeing outcomes associated with each pathway.