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- What is the prevalence of post adoption and guardianship instability for children who exit foster care?
- What are the risk and protective factors for post adoption and guardianship instability at the individual child, caregiver, and family levels?
- What contact do child welfare agencies initiate with families after adoption or guardianship? How does this contact provide information on the well-being of the child or youth?
For children living in foster care, adoption and guardianship are important permanency outcomes when reunification with their biological family is not an option. Most children living in adoptive or guardianship families do not reenter state custody after adoption or guardianship finalization. However, five to 20% of children may experience post adoption and guardianship instability (White et al., 2018). “Post adoption and guardianship instability” refers to situations in which children who exit foster care to adoptive and guardianship homes no longer reside with the adoptive parent or legal guardian. Instability may be formal (when a child re-enters foster care) or informal (when a child lives temporarily with another family member).
The extent to which families experience both formal and informal post adoption and guardianship instability is uncertain, and the reasons for this instability are not always clear. In addition, little is known about the potential of child welfare agencies to serve as a key source of information on instability.
Research on post adoption and guardianship instability is critical to help the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) build the body of knowledge about rates of instability, factors associated with instability, as well as the supports and resources that promote post-permanency stability. In addition, research on this topic can support efforts to build the capacity of federal, state, and local agencies to obtain accurate information about instability for children who exit foster care to adoption or guardianship. To strengthen work in this area, in 2017 ACF launched the Understanding Post Adoption and Guardianship Instability for Children and Youth Who Exit Foster Care (PAGI) project.
This report is a product of the PAGI project. The report summarizes five research study design options to gather information on post adoption and guardianship instability. Each study is designed to answer different research questions that are all grounded in further understanding post adoption and guardianship instability.
This report summarizes five research study design options that intend to gather information about post adoption and guardianship instability. The chapters within this report describe each separate design option. Each chapter contains information about the study design rationale, research questions, methods, measurement strategies, analysis plan and potential study challenges.
Key Findings and Highlights
This report summarizes five research study design options.
National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) Primary Data Collection Study Design. This design option examines the extent to which children adopted after time spent in foster care experience instability as well as risk and protective factors at the child, caregiver, and family levels for several types of formal and informal instability. This design option proposes to collect new data from approximately 542 adolescents (15–17 years old), young adults, and adults (18 and older) who participated in the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) I or II longitudinal study cohorts from 2001 to 2009 and were adopted at some point during the NSCAW I/II study period.
Child Welfare Agency Family Contact Activities Study Design. This design option proposes to explore the intentional and unintentional ways public child welfare agencies are in contact with or receive information about the well-being of children and youth who have exited the foster care system through adoption or guardianship. The study design would involve a web survey with state adoption managers and/or staff responsible for working with guardianship families. The design also includes a series of agency site visits to obtain in-depth knowledge of post adoption and guardianship operations and protocols.
Family Voice Study Design. The purpose of this proposed study design option is to understand and identify factors that may contribute to or prevent instability among adoptive and guardianship families. The study design option proposes to conduct extended qualitative interviews with both young adults and parents/guardians of young adults who have exited foster care through adoption or guardianship. The interviews will be designed to understand instability from the family’s perspective, going beyond what administrative or survey data can capture.
National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) I Secondary Data Analysis Design. This design option proposes to use longitudinal data to shed light on the conditions under which children’s mental health makes instability events more and less likely to occur. Analyses propose to use existing data, covering five waves of NSCAW I data collection spaced over approximately 7 years.
Comparison of Post Adoption and Guardianship Instability Rates: Secondary Data Analysis Study Design. The purpose of this study design option is to estimate the difference in instability rates for children discharged from foster care through adoption versus guardianship. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) is the primary data source for type of permanence, post-permanency instability, and variables related to foster care experiences used in this design.
The study design options described in this report vary in their methods. Some leverage existing local, state, or national data. Others propose to collect new data to obtain information on postadoption and guardianship instability rates, services, and risk and protective factors associated with instability.
Ringeisen, Stambaugh, Rolock, Domanico, Barclay, White, Tueller, Keeney, Blakey, & Casanueva. (2020). Understanding Post Adoption and Guardianship Instability for Children and Youth Who Exit Foster Care: Study Design Options Report, OPRE Report # 2020-35. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The social, emotional, and legal process through which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family while maintaining genetic and psychological connections to their birth family.
- A judicially created relationship between a child and caretaker that is intended to be permanent and self-sustaining as evidenced by the transfer to the caretaker of the following parental rights with respect to the child: protection, education, care and control of the person, custody of the person, and decision-making.
- Foster care:
- A 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians, and for whom the state agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, placements in foster family homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, childcare institutions, and pre-adoptive homes.
- When a child or youth, either on his or her own or with the support of parents or guardians, leaves home before the age of majority.
- Formal instability:
- When a child or youth, either on his or her own or with the support of parents or guardians, leaves the home before the age of majority, and the child welfare system is involved and/or knows that the child no longer resides with the adoptive parent or guardian.
- Informal instability:
- When a child or youth, either on his or her own or with the support of parents or guardians, leaves the home before the age of majority, and the child welfare system is not involved and does not know that the child no longer resides with the adoptive parent or guardian. This can also occur when there is an informal transfer of custody to another individual or group (such as a child’s grandparent or neighbor family) without the knowledge of relevant authorities.
- A child in foster care is determined to have achieved legal permanence when any of the following occurs: (1) The child is discharged from foster care to reunification with their family, either to a parent or other relative; (2) the child is discharged from foster care to a legally finalized adoption; or (3) the child is discharged from foster care to the care of a legal guardian.