Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System. Chapter 5. Reunification from Foster Care in Nine States, 1990-1997: Description and Interpretation


This work describes discharges from foster care, with a focus on those exits that are accomplished by reunifying the foster child with his or her family of origin. The data presented cover a time period from 1990 through 1997. Child welfare practice has undergone substantial change since the mid-1990s. Some changes are due to new federal legislation, such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Others result from policy and practice reform at the state and local levels. As a result, the size and dynamics of current-day foster care caseloads in some states already differ substantially from their experience during the early and mid-1990's. The information that follows provides a description of exits from foster care, based on actual records of child histories in care. It is intended to be used as a baseline against which current and future patterns of exit from foster care can be measured and evaluated.

The tables presented include foster care exit dynamics for nine states: Alabama, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, and Wisconsin. The data for these analyses is drawn from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive at the Chapin Hall Center for Children. The Archive was created with individual level records extracted from the automated administrative tracking systems of each state's public child welfare agency and supplied by the states to Chapin Hall for analytic purposes.

The universe for this analysis includes all episodes of child placement in substitute care arrangements that began during the years 1990 through 1997.1 Each episode (or spell in placement) is tracked either until the child exits from foster care or until the end of 1997. If the child entered care more than once between 1990 and 1997, each spell is retained as a separate event.

Many findings are pooled across all nine states to reveal general trends and patterns. Because these nine states combined contain well over half of the nation's foster care population, observations based on these data should be useful for describing relationships at the national level. However, these data should not be considered as fully representative of the national foster care population, and these nine states are not a representative sample of all state child welfare systems.

This document describes the table contents and figures (located at the end of the document), and highlights some of the patterns and findings observed within them. The discussion of the first table also introduces and describes most of the variables that are used throughout the analysis.

1.  The dates of coverage for Maryland and New Mexico are for fiscal years 1990 through 1997 (July 1, 1989 through June 30, 1996). In the analysis, these fiscal year data will be compared directly to calendar year date from the other seven states.