# Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 2.1 The Structure of Tracking Tables

These tracking tables each contain seven panels, all organized in the same manner. The rows are defined by the year of entry to the foster care spell, and thus represent entry cohorts. The columns are defined by the elapsed duration of spells experienced by children in these annual entry groups, and thus represent intervals of time spent in care. The cell contents contain exit (or reunification) statistics, such as the count of events that occurred within the given duration interval, the cumulative proportion of entrants that had experienced exits by the end of this duration interval, or the average rate of exits for children during this duration interval. This format encourages comparison of the exit experiences of annual entry cohorts, and thus supports examination of trends in the timing and distribution of exits from foster care.

The lightly shaded cells are partially censored, meaning that while the contents reported in them were observed, some possible events that might eventually be included in the cell were unobservable within the timeframe of the current data. This means that when fully observed data are available, these numbers may become larger (they will never become smaller). The darkly shaded cells are fully censored, meaning that none of these events could be observed with this source data.

Using Table IIB.1 as an example, we will describe the contents of each panel, which are labeled as A through G. This table contains pooled information from all nine states combined.

Panels A and B present the counts of exits and of reunifications that were observed for an annual entry cohort within the given interval of duration. For example, in Panel A we can see that 78,580 foster care spells began during 1992. Of these, 6,685 resulted in some exit from care during months 3, 4 or 5 of the spell. In the same cell position in Panel B, we can see that 4,349 of these exits were achieved by family reunification. These two panels contain the raw data that are used to compute each of the remaining panels-- they are difficult to use or interpret in this form.

Panels C and D rearrange these counts in the form of cumulative proportions, expressing for each entry cohort the proportion of spells that have ended (Panel C), or been reunified (Panel D) by the end of the duration interval. For example, in Panel D, we can see that 46 percent (.461) of the 1990 entry cohort was reunified from foster care within 36 months of entry to care. Four rows below, we can see that 42 percent (.416) of the 1995 entry cohort was reunified by 18 months.

Panels E and F present the average monthly exit and reunification rates during each interval. Thus, for 1994 entrants, 11.5 percent (.115) exited from care before the end of the first month, while for those who remained in care at three months, an average of only 2.9 percent (.029) of the children exited per month for the next three months.

Panel G presents the proportion of all exits that have occurred by the end of each duration interval that were achieved by family reunification. Thus for the 1990 entry cohort, 70.3 percent (.703) of the children who exited during their first year in care did so by reunification. For the 1996 entrants, the percentage of first -- year exits that were by reunification had decreased to 60.9 percent (.609).

Any cell in Panels C through G should be directly comparable to other cells in the same column (same measure from another entry cohort), unless one is censored. This is how we look at trends over time. Similarly, any cell in Panels C through G should be directly comparable to the corresponding cell in the same panel for another state. This is how we compare different foster care populations.