Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. 5. Discussion


Although this study is based on cross-sectional data, it is interesting to note that many of its findings are consistent with those from several longitudinal studies. This is especially evident when some of the bivariate relationships of important variables with reunification are compared with those of prior research. First, this analysis found race to be significantly related to reunification: white children were more likely to be reunified than black children. This finding agrees with those in four reunification studies: Barth (1987), Courtney (1994), Wells and Guo (1999) and McMurty and Lie (1992). While Goerge (1990) found no direct racial differences, he obtained interactions between race and region. For example, blacks in Cook County had lower reunification probabilities that whites in Cook County.

Second, this study found kinship placement to be inversely related to reunification: children who were placed with kin were less likely to be reunified than children placed with non-relatives. These findings agree with those of two studies: Goerge (1990), and Courtney (1994). However, Wells and Guo (1999) did not find kinship placement to be related to reunification. Moreover, this study found that kinship placement did not continue to be significantly related to reunification, when combined with race and the other predictors in the regression models. Thus, it was concluded that the higher kinship placements of black children do not explain their lower reunification rates relative to white children.

Third, this study found age of entry to be significantly related to reunification: rates of reunification rose directly with increases in the age that the children entered foster care. Several studies also found lower reunification rates among infants and young children than older children (Goerge 1990; Courtney 1994). Moreover, Courtney (1994) found large racial differences in reunification between blacks and whites at young ages, but declining racial differentials as the age of the children increased. While Wells and Guo (1999) found no significant relationship between age of entry and reunification, they found a positive relationship between the interaction term "African American and age of entry" and reunification.

Fourth, although this study found the reasons for placement to be significantly related to reunification, there were wide differences regarding the specific reasons in prior research. For example, Goerge (1990) found neglected children to have higher reunification rates than abused children. But Wells and Guo (1999) found that children placed for abuse had higher rates of reunification than those placed for neglect or dependency. While Courtney (1994) found--among children placed with non-kin--that children placed for sexual abuse had higher reunification rates than those placed for neglect, he found no significant relationships between any of the reasons for placement and reunification among children placed with kin. And, while this study found that abuse and neglect were both significantly correlated with reunification, they were related in the opposite directions. Children placed for abuse were more likely to be reunified, while children placed for neglect were less likely. However, neither reason for placement continued to be significantly related to reunification -- when combined with other key predictors in the regression models.

On the other hand, unlike the studies by McMurty and Lie (1992), Courtney (1994) and Wells and Guo (1999), this analysis did not find child disability or health problems to be significantly related to reunification. Those studies found children with health problems to be reunified more slowly than children without any health problems. Nor did this study find, as did Courtney (1994), that AFDC status was significantly related to reunification. Yet, this analysis found two other measures of socioeconomic status -- parental education and employment status -- to be positively related to reunification. Children whose parental caretakers had completed high school and were currently employed were more likely to be reunified than children whose parental caretakers were high school dropouts or were not employed.

The questions raised at the beginning of this study will now be addressed. First, "Is race a strong predictor of reunification when combined with other important child, family or case history characteristics?" This analysis revealed that race is a strong predictor of reunification when combined with other important child, family or case history characteristics. A second question was: "What other child, family or case history characteristics are also strong predictors of reunification?" This study reveals four important predictors of reunification in addition to race: age of entry, caretaker job skills, caretaker substance abuse problems and caretaker services.

A third question was: "Are the main effects of race reduced when controlling for other important predictors?" This study found that controlling for the other key predictors does not reduce the independent effects of race. In sum, it was concluded that race continues to play a major role in the reunification of children in addition to other child, family and case history characteristics.