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Timothy Ross, Mark Walsley and Ajay Khashu

"Early adolescents do not have the same experiences in foster care and do not present the same issues for ACS policy and management. For the cohort examined in this study, we were able to identify three distinct patterns in adolescents’ use of the foster care system that have distinct implications for ACS. The patterns are linked to the reasons children enter care. We named the patterns “quick turnarounds,” “repeaters” and “longtermers,” based on short stays in care (less than two months), re-entries into care, and lengthy stays in care (from entry in 1994 through May 1999), respectively. Of the early adolescents in the 1994 cohort, 57 percent used the foster care system in one of these ways; the remainder entered care only once and stayed longer than two months but less than the entire period.

Quick turnarounds

Quick turnarounds are early adolescents who enter foster care only once and are discharged within two months. Quick turnarounds account for 25 percent of the study group. Over one-third (35%) of the PINS (Persons in need of supervision) entrants can be classified as quick turnarounds compared to 15 percent of the voluntaries and 11 percent of those placed as a result of an Article 10 petition. With a mean age at entry of 14.4 years, quick turnarounds were five months older on average than the rest of the early adolescent group.

Four of five “quick turnarounds” are discharged to parents or relatives, with virtually all of the remainder discharged to AWOL (16%) or administrative action (2%). Length of stay statistics show that most quick turnarounds stay for much less than the two months. Seventy-three percent stay in care for 30 days or less, and almost one-half for 10 days or less. Despite the short time these children spend in foster care, they consume a noticeable amount of resources. Three quarters of these children are first placed in
congregate care, one quarter in foster boarding homes, and less than one percent in kinship homes. Quick turnarounds consumed the equivalent of 20 congregate care beds for an entire year, at a cost of $1.2 million. Though in care for a short time, the group accounted for 121 AWOLs, and had an extraordinary AWOL rate of 13.8 AWOLs per 1,000 care days. Opening and closing cases and searching for AWOL children are labor intensive processes. Thus, the true cost of managing the quick turnarounds is likely
higher than the one calculated here.

In these cases, it appears that families and the Family Court are using foster care as respite care, which can be an effective intervention in many instances. The foster care system, however, is neither intended for nor designed as a respite care resource. This suggests that ACS, either on its own or in conjunction with another agency such as the Department of Mental Health, may consider developing specialized respite care programming.

Repeaters

Repeaters are foster children who re-enter care at least once following a discharge. The study group contained 393 repeaters, or 19 percent of the total. Almost all of them reentered only once. Over one quarter of PINS youth were repeaters, compared to 15 percent of Article 10s and 17 percent of voluntary placements. With a mean age of 13.7 years, repeaters were three months younger on average than the group as a whole. Over two thirds of repeaters entered congregate care as their first placement and an even higher percentage (79%) entered congregate care at the start of their second spell.

The majority of repeaters (57%) spent all of their time in congregate care, while only eight percent resided exclusively in foster boarding homes and one percent in kinship homes. Eighty-two percent were discharged home following their first spell and nine percent were discharged to AWOL. Of those discharged a second time (75 of all repeaters), only 62 percent went home and 21 percent were discharged to AWOL.

Repeaters spent an average of 141 days in care during their first spell and 377 days during the second spell, a 267 percent increase. Overall, repeaters had an AWOL rate of 2.4 AWOL events per 1,000 days in care, or 70 percent higher than the average for the whole study group. In addition, 26 percent of repeaters entered juvenile detention facilities, a rate 70 percent higher than the study group as a whole.

Longtermers

Longtermers are adolescents who remained in foster care without a discharge from their first entrance in 1994 through May 1, 1999, the end of the study period.11 While these children account for only 13 percent of the study group, they are of particular concern due to recent increases in emphasis on permanency. One-half of these youth entered due to Article 10 petitions, and one-third entered on voluntary placements – this translates to roughly one of every four Article 10 entrants and one of every five voluntary placements. Only 11 percent originally came into care on PINS petitions (this constitutes only 5 percent of the PINS entrants.) With a mean age at entry of 13.4 years, longtermers were seven months younger on average than the group as a whole.

ACS spent an average of $150,471 on each of these 270 children, or $40.6 million in total. Longtermers consumed 468 bed years of congregate care, 489 bed years of foster boarding home care, and 244 bed years of kinship care. Congregate care costs accounted for 74 percent of the total amount spent on providing services to these children. In other words, though longtermers spent more time in family-type care, congregate care still consumed the vast majority of resources.
This group stood out in two other ways. Only six percent ever experienced a trial discharge, and they exhibited relatively little AWOL activity. While one-third of the group had at least one AWOL event, 24 children (9 percent of all longtermers) accounted for 62 percent of the total number of AWOLs, and the group as a whole had only .58 AWOLs per 1,000 care days. Combining these indicators suggests that these children appear to come from deeply troubled homes where a trial discharge was viewed by
caseworkers as unlikely to succeed and that, once removed from that situation, most of these youth avoided troubling behavior."

Ross, T., Wamsley, M., & Khashu, A. (2001). The experiences of early adolescents in foster care in New York City: Analysis of the 1994 Cohort. Vera Institute of Justice

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