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June 2017Vol. 18, No. 4Foster Home Licensing and the Probability of Family Reunification

Reunification is the priority for all state child welfare systems. In the Child Abuse & Neglect article "Foster Home Placements and the Probability of Family Reunification: Does Licensing Matter?," researchers discussed whether licensing has an impact on the odds of reunification at one- and two-year intervals among licensed nonrelative care (LNC), licensed relative care (LRC), unlicensed relative care (URC), and mixed foster care (MFC) placements.

Foster home licensing is intended to standardize foster care settings. Licensing standards often include the physical and mental health of the foster parents, age of the foster parents, family income, training, physical home environment, capacity to care for another child, and access to transportation. It also includes a formal home study. It is important to note that although all nonrelative foster homes are licensed, states are not required to license all relative foster homes. States have discretion to waive nonsafety licensing standards on a case-by-case basis to ensure timely placements that are in the best interest of the child.

For the study, the authors used data that were made available through a statewide data-sharing agreement between a large Midwestern child welfare agency and the University of Michigan's Child and Adolescent Data Lab. This data-sharing agreement allowed the authors to access the complete administrative records for all youth involved in at least one placement facilitated by child welfare.

The authors measured the youth's socioeconomic variables, such as gender (approximately the same number of males and females), race (56.4 percent White, 30.1 percent African-American, 12.4 percent multiracial, and 1.0 percent other), and age of entry into foster care (ranged from less than 1 year to 16 years old). The youth were categorized into the LNC, LRC, URC, or MFC groups based on where they had spent at least 80 percent of their time in care. For example, if a youth spent 80 percent of his time in foster care in an LNC home, he was assigned the LNC group.

The study's findings show that licensing has an impact on reunification, especially with regard to relative care. Children in the LRC group were the least likely to have attained reunification. Conversely, those in the URC group were the most likely to have achieved reunification. The authors surmised that caseworkers and private agencies may be less comfortable with unlicensed care and intentionally expedite the reunification process or that children in LRC homes stay longer because the licensing and credentialing of relatives increases the monthly board rate and therefore provides a disincentive to the relative caregiver to work toward reunification. These hypotheses have implications on the way child welfare agencies consider placement option in terms of reunification, stability, and safety and may help researchers develop an agenda that focuses on the benefits and costs associated with seeking out licensure.

"Foster Home Placements and the Probability of Family Reunification: Does Licensing Matter?," by Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron, Andrew Moore, Bryan Victor, and Michael Evangelist, Child Abuse & Neglect, 59, 2016, is available through ScienceDirect at