Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 1.2 Exit Destination by Child Characteristics


Age at entry is the age of the child at the time of their initial placement into this spell in care. Reunification levels are highest for children who enter the foster care spell between the ages of 3 and 11 years. Over two-thirds of the exits for these children are by reunification. Reunification is least likely for children who enter as infants (39% of exits for children entering under 3 months of age) or as adolescents (43% of children 15-17 years).

The youngest children are much more likely than others to leave foster care via adoption (40% of exits for children <3 months, 21% for children 3-11 months). For the 0-3 month entry group, more spells end through adoption than through reunification. Adoption becomes a far less likely outcome as the age at entry to foster care increases. Older entrants are far more likely to leave foster care via runaway, by reaching majority, or for "other" reasons.

Age at exit. This variable is the age of the child at the end of the spell in care. While the previous finding shows that the youngest children are least likely to exit by reunification, those young entrants who do exit quickly (and thus are still very young at exit) have very high rates of reunification and high rates of relative placement. This is partly because the large number of infants that move to the adoptive track tend to remain in care for several years, and are older by the time they exit. Adoption is most likely for children who leave care at age 3-5, almost one quarter (.248) of whom exit by adoption. Aging out of care and exiting by runaway occur only for foster children in their teens. That these exit types are age-limited, and are not available exit options for young children.

Gender. The relationship between gender and the type of exit from foster care is very weak. Boys are somewhat more likely to remain in care longer, and slightly more likely to be reunified. Girls are slightly more likely to reach majority in care, and somewhat more likely than boys to run away from substitute care arrangements.

Race/Ethnicity. Hispanic foster children who leave foster care are more likely to be reunified (.639) than children from the other groups, and are the least likely to exit to relative care or by adoption. African American children who exit are the least likely to be reunified (.506), while they are the most likely to exit to relative care or adoption. The exit patterns of white children in foster care fall between these extremes, with a reunification proportion (.604) somewhat closer to the Hispanics than to the African Americans. White children, however, are more likely to leave foster care without experiencing long-term stays before exit. Just over 10 percent of the white children who entered care in 1990-94 remained in care at the end of 1997, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic children and 27 percent of African American children.