TUE July 10, 2018 TUE July 10, 2018
10:30 am 10:30 am
International II International II

Nancy Rolock

Associate Professor, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Kevin R. White

Associate Professor, School of Social Work, East Carolina University

Kerrie Ocasio

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Rutgers University

Michael MacKenzie

Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Rutgers University

Rowena Fong

Emeritus Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin

Lixia Zhang

Graduate student, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Alfred Pérez

Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Seattle University

Nancy Rolock

Associate Professor, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Ruth McRoy

Professor, School of Social Work, Boston College School of Social Work

Susan Ayers-Lopez

Adoption Research Program Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin

Symposium: An examination of post-adoption experiences of children, young adults, and families in the U.S.

A comparison of foster care reentry after adoption in two large U.S. states

Background and Purpose: Between 2000 and 2013, the number of children in foster care decreased by about half (290,000 v. 159,000), while the number of children in adoptive homes nearly doubled (228,000 v. 432,000). This was largely a result of federal policies that emphasized the movement of children out of foster care and into legal permanence where it was presumed that they would live ‘happily ever after.’ Extant research suggests that the vast majority (about 85%) of families do not experience post-permanency discontinuity. However, for the approximately 15% who do, it is often a difficult experience for the entire family. This study examined longitudinal administrative data from Illinois and New Jersey to examine these outcomes.

Methods: Using data obtained from two state-wide child welfare agencies, this study examined long-term outcomes for a population of former foster children (N=26,199 in Illinois and 12,230 in New Jersey) who exited care through adoption between 2000 and 2010. Survival analysis examined pre-permanency factors associated with post-permanency return to care up to the age of majority.

Results: Descriptive analyses showed that of children adopted from the public child welfare system in Illinois and New Jersey, 6% and 4% experienced a return to care respectively. Multivariate survival analyses indicated that, controlling for other characteristics, children adopted at the age of six or older were 2.3 times more likely to reenter foster care after adoption finalization than younger children. Hazards for reentry increased with each move a child had in foster care (HR=1.11) and children who spent long periods of time in foster care (three or more years) were more likely (HR=1.13) to reenter foster care. African American children were more likely to reenter care (HR=1.29) in the overall model; this difference remained statistically significant for children in Illinois (HR=1.35) but not in New Jersey (HR=1.17). Children adopted by relatives were no more likely to reenter care (HR=0.96).

Conclusions: This study found that children in adoptive homes experience lower placement instability than is commonly feared by many practitioners and policy-makers. A unique aspect of this study was the ability to compare results from two states, with different policies and practices. While there were similarities in the findings from both states, there are some notable differences that require additional research to better understand the practice and policy implications. A key difference is in the rate of post-adoption reentry into foster care: 4% in New Jersey and 6% in Illinois. While a 2% difference may seem like a small difference, in the context of an event that occurs rarely, and given the large sample sizes, this difference has greater meaning. By including data from two large, diverse states, the current study provides information that can be helpful to policymakers and practitioners when determining preventive services.

A comparative analysis of the post adoption, guardianship, and emancipation experiences of young adults who exited foster care

Background and Purpose: Each year over 20,000 youth emancipate from the U.S. foster care system because they did not achieve the legal permanence conferred by exiting foster care through adoption or guardianship. While we continue to build knowledge about emancipated youth, such as the findings of bleak outcomes across key well-being indicators, little is known about how adolescents who exited foster care through adoption or guardianship fare as young adults.

Methods: This study is based on 31 in-depth interviews with young adults (90% African American; average age 27) who self-reported exiting foster care as adolescents (average age 15.5) through legal permanency (adoption, 32.5% or guardianship, 35%) or emancipation (32.5%). Interviews, 60 – 90 minutes, centered on the young adults’ post-permanence or post-emancipation experiences across key indicators of education, employment, housing, and significant interpersonal relationships. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, reviewed and coded, with NVivo 10. We compared well-being and adult functioning across key domains among participants exiting foster care through legal permanence or emancipation.

Results: Interviews revealed a mixed picture of well-being and adult functioning among young adults who exited foster care through the legal permanence or emancipation during adolescence. The emancipated young adults were more likely to graduate from high school (80% vs. 62%), enroll in college (80% vs. 57%), and have intact relationships (70% vs. 52%) with their last caretaker compared to young adults who attained permanency. In contrast, while the permanency group was less likely to graduate from high school, those who enrolled in college were considerably more likely to graduate from college (70% vs. 30%) compared to their emancipated counterparts. Moreover, the permanency group compared to the emancipated group was more likely to report being employed (52% vs. 40%), significantly more likely to be report living in an established independent household (85% vs. 60%), report being in a committed long-term relationship (66% vs. 50%), yet experience some form of violence (52% vs. 40%) compared to the emancipated group.

Conclusions: The findings accentuate the challenging nature of the transition to adulthood for young adults who exited state custody through legal permanence or emancipation. The attainment of legal permanence presumes that young people who exit state custody through adoption or guardianship at a minimum fare better than their emancipated counterparts by virtue of attaining legal permanence. This paper begins to address this important gap in our knowledge by comparing how young adults who exited foster care through legal permanence versus emancipation fare across key indicators during young adulthood.

Factors Associated with Successful Adoptions from Foster Care

Background: This prospective mixed method study of families whose finalized adoptions remained intact and committed to parenting the adopted child. Special attention was placed on including families who had adopted older children (between 12 and 16 years old), sibling groups, and children who were in foster care for several years, in order to glean information on how these families and children were adjusting and what factors contributed to positive outcomes.

Methods: Telephone interviews were conducted with one parent per family using semi-structured interviews and a survey. One to two years after the initial interview, longitudinal follow up surveys were completed to assess changes in family and child functioning over time. The nationwide sample of 161 families finalized their adoptions between 1 and 14 years earlier; 68% were two-parent families, 32% were single parents. One child from each family was the focus child. Half the children (55%) were males, 50% Caucasian (non-Hispanic), 19% African American, 12% Hispanic, 3% percent Native American, and 17% were mixed race/ethnicity. Children were an average of 6.5 years old at placement and had been in their adoptive homes an average of 6 years.

Results: Parents characterized a successful adoption as: 1)Parents were committed to the child and the time of adoption; 2) Parents were prepared to adopt a child with special needs and had realistic expectations of the child. 3) The child was still living in the home and not behaving negatively; 4)The child was showing progress in the adoptive home; 4)The parent and child had bonded. Significant differences were found in levels of support families received pre- and post-placement. At the initial decision to adopt, 41% of families had received positive reactions to their decision from both friends and family. By the time of post-placement, 74% reported positive support of the adoption from both friends and families. Despite the “success of the adoptions, “58% of all families described their child as difficult or very difficult to parent. Children in the study exhibited difficult behaviors, including: violating rules of conduct (70%), verbal aggression (55%), physical aggression (48%), stealing (48%), and vandalism (31%).

Conclusions: Acknowledging the parenting challenges, 88% of parents believed their child’s adoption was a success, 11% were not sure, and 2% said their adoption was not a success. Attachment issues, significant behavioral problems of the child, and lack of services were cited as reasons that parents believed their adoptions had been challenging. When asked to offer advice to prospective families; families suggested that they needed to be flexible, tolerant, and patient; love the child unconditionally; and maintain a sense of humor. To improve chances of successful outcomes, families suggested that adequate resources and services, such as respite care, subsidies, support groups, and counseling, should be provided to the family.