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May 2020Vol. 21, No. 4Foster Care Reentry Study Explores How Family First Preventive Services Can Reduce Risk

A new study from the Center for State Child Welfare Data at Chapin Hall, Reentry to Foster Care: Identifying Candidates Under the Family First Act (PDF - 204 KB), identifies two subgroups who would benefit the most from targeted services to help prevent reentry into foster care: infants who reenter care before their first birthdays and teenagers with a prior history of out-of-home care. The study looks at identifying risk factors for reentry and how preventive services under the new Family First Act might reduce reentry rates.

The authors studied specific characteristics identified as risk factors for reentry to foster care:

  • A child's placement history
  • Demographic characteristics
  • Time elapsed since the exit from foster care (due to reunification or guardianship)
  • Contextual factors measured at the county level
  • Effects of the recession (2008-2009)

Data for the study were taken from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive and involved 607,289 children from 20 states. The sample looks at all children who, before turning 18, exited their first stay in foster care to reunification or guardianship between 2003 and 2010. The study included a lengthy follow-up period from the time of discharge (through December 2017) to understand developmental effects. If a child did not reenter care prior to January 2018, they were not included (provided they had not yet turned 18). Children who turned 18 before reentering care were also dropped from the risk set when they turned 18.

Some of the study's key findings are below:

  • Children who entered foster care as infants and reunified soon thereafter had a very high incidence of reentry.
  • Male children discharged from care had a 4-percent lower reentry rate than their female counterparts.
  • Black children were more likely to return to care than youth of other races and ethnicities.
  • Infants who changed levels of care (e.g., family foster care, therapeutic foster care, kinship foster care) during their foster care experience were less likely to reenter care than those who did not, while older children who changed levels of care were more likely to reenter care than those who did not.
  • In cases of guardianship, children coming from the shortest stays in care had the lowest rates of reentry.
  • For children whose last placement before reunification involved a group home, reentry was found to be 20 percent higher than for those coming from a traditional foster home.
  • Reunifications in lower income counties had reduced reentry rates.
  • Rates of reentry were higher for those in rural areas or smaller metropolitan areas.
  • Reentry rates were generally lower during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 for children who had reunified earlier.
  • For teenagers coming from congregate care, the rate of reentry was high (but the authors attribute this more to a child's clinical profile than the group home experience and point out that congregate care is a marker for young people who may need additional support upon reentry).