Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 4. Reentry from Foster Care

12/01/2001

Reentry levels are important markers of the "success" of exits from foster care, and as such, provide a useful outcome measure to consider in evaluating reunification. While we tend to assume that family reunification is a positive outcome, reentry statistics help assess the degree to which reunification practice is successful. That is, whether the children who were returned home were able to remain at home following their discharge from care. When high reunification levels are accompanied by high reentry levels, we are led to assume that many of the reunifications were arranged unwisely or prematurely. 11

Most of the following reentry analysis looks at the universe of foster care spells that started between 1990-93, that ended within 36 months, and where the child was aged 14 or younger at the time of exit. These restrictions are used to define a risk group for which reentry is equally possible for all cases. In most models, we evaluate reentries that occur within the first year after exit.


11.  This argument is presented in its simplest form. Indeed, some reentry is probably better than none, although defining an optimal level involves both technical and normative questions. If no children reenter foster care, it could be understood to imply that the decisions to reunify have been made too conservatively. In this case we should be concerned that a large number of potentially successful reunifications are avoided for fear of possible failure. However, we believe the reentry levels we report here are generally above the levels one would consider optimal.