Dynamics of Children's Movement Among the AFDC, Medicaid, and Foster Care Programs Prior to Welfare Reform: 1995–1996. Findings


The transition from AFDC to foster care.  Using longitudinal statistical techniques, we find that at two years from entry to AFDC, 2 percent (20/1000) of the California entries, 2.5 (25/1000) percent of the North Carolina entries, and 2.6 percent (26/1000) of the Illinois entries have entered foster care (see table 1) (see figures CA4, NC4, and IL4 in the appendix).  Although this seems to be a relatively small number, entries into foster care from the AFDC caseload account for a majority of the entries (about 60%) across the three states.  There is also significant variation among the states in the rate of entry to foster care from AFDC, with the rates in North Carolina and Illinois being 25 percent greater than in California.


Table 1.
Transition from AFDC to Foster Care
Indicator Illinois California North Carolina
% of AFDC cohort that enter FC by 2 years 2.6% 2.0% 2.5%
% of FC entries previously in AFDC or Mediciad 71% 71% 68%
% of FC entries from AFDC that go directly from AFDC to FC 85% 96% 90%

It is also the case that the vast majority (85% in Illinois, 96% in California, and 90% in North Carolina) of these children who went to foster care went from an AFDC grant directly to foster care prior to their AFDC case closing (see table 1).  The remainder experience an interim of no cash assistance before entry into foster care.  Therefore, a typical transition pattern is not one in which an AFDC case closes and an entry to foster care occurs, but rather one in which a child enters foster care from an active AFDC case.  This is particularly relevant because many of the current welfare reform evaluations now focus on those TANF cases that have exited.  There are likely to be very small numbers of foster care entries from the families that have exited, if this transition pattern remains for the period after welfare reform.

The following findings on the effect of age, type of foster care and county-level poverty were the results of our multivariate analyses (Tables IL1, CA1 and NC1).  Infants are nearly three times as likely to enter foster care from an AFDC spell than 15-17 year olds in North Carolina and California and four times as likely in Illinois.  We also find that all children on AFDC are more likely to enter foster care early (within the first ten months of their AFDC experience) and that infants exhibit this to the greatest degree.  These findings suggest that foster care entry from AFDC is more likely to occur for young children at a time of crisis or stress that has caused a family to move onto the AFDC rolls.  Future analysis should include the age of the mother as an additional independent variable because infants who enter foster care are more likely to be born to adolescent or young adult mothers (Goerge and Lee, 1997).

Kinship care in Illinois and California has been used as a formal foster care placement.  Therefore, we track kinship care in these two states as a separate outcome.  There is some reason to believe that the dynamics of entry to kinship care as opposed to other types of foster care are different, since relatives may be taking care of a child informally prior to the intervention by the child welfare agency.  Here we find evidence for this; in California, it is 160% more likely that a child from an AFDC grant enters non-kinship foster care placements than kinship foster care and, in Illinois, the likelihood is 60% greater.  Since the overall rate of entry into kinship care has been at least as high as that of non-kinship care in these two states, this likely reflects the fact that children are living with relatives prior to foster care who are not on AFDC.

The effect of county-level poverty on the transition rates varied by state.  In California, children from poor counties were more likely to be placed in foster care.  However, placement in Los Angeles County seems to account for most of that finding, since it does have a greater than average poverty rate.  We found no effect of county poverty levels in Illinois or North Carolina.  We also did not get a consistent race effect across the three states.  Given that the race and county-level poverty effects are highly correlated, we believe that it is important to look at smaller geographic regions, such as zip codes or even census tracts in order to properly estimate the effect of these two factors.(4) 

The transition from foster care to AFDC, Medicaid-only, or no program participation.  There are quite different dynamics across the three states in this transition.  Of the three states, Illinois has the highest number of all foster care entries still in foster care after two years (61%), a finding that is well-known in child welfare (see table 2).  Both California and North Carolina have moved more children out of foster care than Illinois.  In California, the most likely transition is from foster care to Medicaid-only (40%).  Most North Carolina children (69%) move from foster care to a system exit (no longer receiving AFDC or Medicaid).  Relatively few children transition from foster care to AFDC (4% in Illinois, 5% in North Carolina and 11% in California).

Those children who do make the transition from foster care to AFDC are likely to do it very quickly, with 69 percent of the foster care exiters in Illinois, 79 percent in California, and 91 percent in North Carolina doing so within 31 days of exit from foster care.  Given that the AFDC pathway out of foster care is an unlikely one, we do not anticipate that welfare reform will have a great effect on the type of foster care exits.  It may be, however, that children exit more slowly from foster care than they do now.

We find that the percentage of children who have re-entered AFDC after entering foster care from AFDC is very similar to the percentage of foster children entering AFDC who have not been in AFDC before foster care.  These statistics are relatively similar across states.  It is unclear why these numbers are similar across states, because of the great variation in how long children stay in foster care.  One hypothesis is that the experience of foster care itself changes either the family or the child in ways that prevents certain children from ever returning to the original family.  The small percentages of children who return to their families and participate in AFDC may be the cases in which children are reunified with their families very quickly and where the families can be preserved.


Table 2.
Transition from Foster Care to AFDC and Medicaid-only
Indicator Illinois California North Carolina
% of FC entries still in care at the end of 2 years 61% 34% 24%
% of FC entries that made transition to AFDC 4% 11% 5%
% of FC entries that made transition to Medicaid 6% 40% 16%
% completely out of system after 2 years 33% 33% 69%
% of AFDC entries from FC that do so within 31 days of FC exit 69% 79% 91%
% of exits that enter AFDC or Medicaid 23% 65% 23%
% of children who have entered FC from AFDC who re-enter AFDC (at 1, 2, and 3 months) 10.2%
% of children who have entered FC from AFDC who re-enter AFDC (2 years) 13.3% 12.1% 13.4%