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May 2021Vol. 22, No. 5Spotting the Early Signs of Placement Disruptions in Foster Care

Placement stability is a key indicator of success in foster care. Recognizing this, child welfare professionals have been increasingly looking at ways to identify when children and youth are at risk for placement disruption, which often results in negative outcomes and poses risks to short- and long-term well-being. In a recent study by Vanderbilt University, researchers examined how child protective services data can predict placement disruption.

The study's sample included 8,853 youth ages 5 to 19 in state custody in Tennessee between July 2012 and June 2017. All participants were assessed using the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment, a youth evaluation tool used by several states. In the study, researchers used CANS data, demographic characteristics, and placement information of participants to draw conclusions about predictors of placement disruption. Placement disruption was defined using the duration of the first placement and the number of lifetime placements.

An examination of the data indicated that children in foster care experienced a high degree of disruption. Although about one-fifth (21 percent) of the children had only one placement, 29 percent had two placements, and 22 percent had three placements. As hypothesized, children displaying internalizing problems (such as anxiety or self-harm behaviors), externalizing problems (such as substance use or delinquency), school difficulties, child relationship problems, and/or affect dysregulation (i.e., anger and/or emotional control issues) had a shorter length of first placement and a greater number of lifetime placements.

Researchers concluded that CANS data and other data collected by child welfare professionals as part of standard practice can be used to identify children and youth who may be at risk of placement disruption and to implement effective interventions.

For more information, refer to "Predictors of Placement Disruptions in Foster Care" in Child Abuse & Neglect.