Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 3. Research Methods


This study seeks to answer the question, "Is race a strong predictor of reunification when combined with other important child, family or case history characteristics?" Related questions are: (a) "What other child, family or case history characteristics are also strong predictors of reunification?" and (b) "Are the main effects of race reduced when controlling for other important predictors?"

The data for this study are from the 1994 National Study of Protective, Preventive and Reunification Services Delivered to Children and Their Families (NSPPRS), which will be referred to as the "National Study." An objective of the National Study, which was conducted by Westat, was to document the number and characteristics of children and families who received various in-home or out-of-home child welfare services between March 1, 1993 and March 1, 1994 based on a national sample of 2109 children. This analysis will focus on the subsample of 1034 children who had foster care experiences (i.e., were placed in foster care) during the study period, had left foster care or who were still in foster care by February 28, 1994.

The National Study has a longitudinal component, since it obtains outcome data on the segment of children who were discharged during the six-month period after February 28, 1994. This analysis, however, will rely on the cross-sectional aspects of the study. Thus, the NSPPRS is essentially a point-in-time study that suffers from the limitations of many cross-sectional studies: it over-represents cases that remain in care for longer periods of time. On the other hand, a unique advantage of the National Study is that, since it is based on interviews with caseworkers who provided information for specific foster children based on their case records, the survey was able to include variables that are not often found in most administrative records. Because of the small sample size of Hispanics in the survey, this analysis is restricted to comparisons between blacks and whites.

Logistic regression models are the primary method of analysis in this study. Most of the study variables were also used in other reunification studies. The independent variables fall into three groups: children's characteristics, family characteristics and case history characteristics. Children's characteristics include: race, gender, age at entry, and disability status. Family characteristics include: social class index (combining parent's education and employment status), whether the parent lacks job skills, has substance abuse problems, or is a single mother. Case history characteristics include: reasons for placement (abuse allegations or neglect allegations), whether the child was placed with kin or nonkin, and whether the parental caretaker was provided various kinds of services. Caseworkers were asked whether the caretakers received any of the following 23 services: parent training (at home or in classes), household management, homemaker services, day care, respite care, emergency financial aid, family planning, legal services, schooling, employment training, health care, psychological assessments, out-patient or inpatient mental health treatment, case management or counseling, out-patient or inpatient substance abuse treatment, self-help groups, housing, housing payment, temporary shelter and transportation.

The dependent variable in this analysis is parental reunification (i.e., the proportion of children who were reunified vs. those who were discharged for other reasons or are still in care.) The specific codes for the independent and dependent variables are described in detail in the appendix.