Demographics of Foster Care:Comparative Perspectives and Implications International Society for Child Indicators Chicago, Illinois June 26-28, 2007 Fred Wulczyn, Ph.D Chapin Hall Center for Children University of Chicago
Purpose • Use age as a proxy for developmental issues to approximate how child development influences entry and exit patterns • Examine age patterns from a cross-national perspective • Frame the discussion of child well-being within this context
Theory • The likelihood there will be a mismatch between the needs of a child and the ability of a parent to meet those needs is, on average, a function of a given child’s developmental stage. The same is true of intervention design. • The mismatch is aggravated by certain circumstances: human capital, social capital. For example, maltreatment and placement rates on average will be higher in poor counties. • However, if developmental issues are at play then holding context constant, distinct patterns should emerge.
Implications All strategies of intervention, regardless of the target group or the desired outcomes, can be derived from the normative theories of child development . . . the general principles of development apply to all children independent of their biological variability or the range of environments in which they live. (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000) In the case of child welfare, then, strategies of intervention in relation to well-being have to be directed at the developmental trajectories of children.
Placement in Foster Care • Changing the context leaves the age patterns unchanged. • Time controls for period effects (policy changes, social and economic changes) • Place controls for social capital
Age in Relation to Outcomes • Age is a correlate of how a child will leave the system. • Again, the patterns emerge in ways that are largely independent of context: time and place.
Leaving Placement • Family exits, which include reunification, guardianship, and exits to relatives(other than adoption) are most common among older children • However, among adolescents children who leave for other reasons (AWOL, aging out) account for many exits. • Basic patterns do not differ by race/ethnicity but the levels do. Likelihood of Exit by Age at Admission: African Americans Likelihood Exit by Age at Admission: Whites
Leaving Foster Care Rate of Exit to Reunification by Age • Exit rates are tied closely to age • Adolescents move quickly to reunification relative to younger children • Adolescents move more slowly to adoption Rate of Exit to Adoption by Age
Summary • Stable patterns in the age structure of the population suggest that even through historical periods (e.g., policy changes and socio-economic changes), age remains a durable determinant of risk. Similarly, age-differentiated patterns that persevere across geographic boundaries suggest that even variation in local “ecologies” is not enough to trump the importance of age as a defining determinant of maltreatment and the process of care. • “ . . . the general principles of development apply to all children independent of . . . the range of environments in which they live.” (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000, pg. 341) • Issues of development already permeate child welfare, yet policy and practice to a very large extent ignore these underlying realities. • The desire to introduce well-being into the outcome mix, however, puts developmental issues squarely in the middle of the debate.