Timing of exits to legal permanency from out-of-home care: The importance of systems and implications for assessing institutional accountability
Achieving legal permanency (i.e., family reunification, adoption, or legal guardianship) for children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse, neglect, or dependency is one of the primary goals of the public child welfare system. Following through the end of 2008 children who first entered out-of-home care in the State of Washington between 2001 and 2007 (n=36,797), this study identifies significant variation between jurisdictions within the state in the rate at which children experience legal permanency, variation that cannot be readily explained by differences in the characteristics of the populations served. Interactions between the juvenile courts and child welfare agencies appear to explain much of the observed geographic variation in outcomes. Juvenile court involvement varies considerably across the state; differences in the likelihood and timing of court involvement are partially due to differences in the availability of services to troubled youth and partially due to local variation in decision-making about when to involve families with the courts. Non-court-involved children are more likely to reunify and reunify much more quickly than court-involved children. Thus, variation by region in the mix of children who are court-involved versus non-court involved influences regional performance in achieving permanency for children. These findings have implications for efforts to hold institutions accountable for achieving legal permanency for children in out-of-home care.
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