Understanding Foster Parenting: Using Administrative Data to Explore Retention. State Data


Child welfare agencies in three states  New Mexico, Oklahoma and Oregon  contributed data for these analyses. Selection of these states was based on data quality and states' willingness to provide both data and ongoing consultation to the study team. Table 2-1 summarizes data characteristics from each state. States provided three types of data for non-relative foster care: foster parent licensure data, data on individual foster parent characteristics, and placement records for children.

Table 2-1.
Summary of Data Characteristics
  New Mexico Oklahoma Oregon
Years of data
Foster home 1998-2001 1996-2001 1983-2002
Child placements 1998-2001 1996-2001 1990-2003
License types Regular foster
Therapeutic foster
Regular foster
Restricted foster
Regular foster
Restricted foster

Foster parent licensure records included license types, license start dates, and license end dates. Because many homes had multiple license types, an analytic variable was created to identify those providing regular (non-relative) foster care only, foster-adopt homes (licensed foster homes that have indicated an interest in adoption and have completed some of the requirements for adoptive placements), restricted non-relative placements (homes approved for care of specific children), and therapeutic foster care (homes providing higher levels of care to children with special needs), as shown in Table 2-1. Homes licensed for relative care only were excluded from analysis, as were placements of relative children regardless of the foster parents' license type. Thus, for these analyses, the restricted license category represents foster parents licensed to care for specific children who are not relatives. In Oklahoma, this license is known as kinship non-relative; in Oregon, it is classified as a special license, along with a relative foster parent license.

Data on individual foster parents included race, date of birth, and number of foster parents in the home. Location was coded by New Mexico as urban or rural; for Oklahoma and Oregon, analysts coded homes as metropolitan or nonmetropolitan based on U.S. Census coding of counties (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). High levels of missing data precluded analysis of data on race for New Mexico and data on ethnicity for all three states. This omission is unfortunate, since Hispanic children represent the majority of children in out-of-home care in New Mexico and substantial populations in the other states (CWLA, 2002).

To facilitate analysis at the foster home level, and to allow inclusion of both single- and two-parent foster homes in the analysis, the study team recoded individual foster parent characteristics into home-level variables. As an example, race was coded as one or both parents Native American, one or both parents black, all foster parents white, and other (other race or homes in which one foster parent was black and one Native American). Age was converted into a similar home-level variable representing age at first licensure. Additional data fields from Oregon included income and employment status at time of initial licensure. Note that these fields represent foster parents' characteristics at the time of initial licensure, and may change over the course of a foster parenting career.

Data on children placed in the home included date of birth, race and special needs identifiers (New Mexico and Oklahoma only). To allow examination of whether or not caring for children who might be seen as more demanding was a factor in foster parents' length of service, analysts coded children as infants (less than 1 year old at time of placement), adolescents (aged 13 or above at time of placement or before the placement end date) and special needs (physical, mental, or behavioral conditions identified). Oregon's data included a field identifying placements that ended because the child was adopted by foster parents.

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