An Examination of Post-Permanency Adjustment and Discontinuity for Older Foster Youth in Adoptive and Guardianship Homes Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • White, Kevin
    • Affiliation: School of Social Work
  • For more than two decades, child welfare scholars, practitioners, and advocates involved with the U.S. child welfare system have engaged in coordinated efforts to increase the number of foster youth who find stable, permanent homes through adoption or guardianship, and these efforts have been shaped and guided by federal policies and directives. As a result, the number of children adopted or placed into guardianship out of foster care has increased since the mid-1990s, and the proportion of exits from foster care due to adoption or guardianship has been growing over time as well. Although this increase in permanency for foster youth is generally deemed a success resulting from improvements in child welfare policy and practice, some voices have also raised concerns that perhaps foster youth are being placed in permanent homes too quickly, or without adequate preparation, and thus, a high proportion foster youth may experience poor long-term outcomes and foster care reentry, otherwise known as post-permanency discontinuity. Despite these concerns about the stability of foster care adoptions and guardianships, little is known about how former foster youth fare after legal finalization of permanent placements. Data on youth and families after finalization are difficult to obtain, and few rigorous studies have examined outcomes for this population or evaluated interventions designed to prevent discontinuity. This three-paper dissertation is an effort to address these issues. The first paper is a systematic review of the literature undertaken to summarize the risk and protective factors for discontinuity and outcomes proximal to discontinuity found in previous peer-reviewed studies. Proximal outcomes to discontinuity are short-term outcomes that signal child or family adjustment problems after adoption or guardianship (e.g., child behavior problems, family adjustment, or parental stress), and may also be mediators in the chain of risk between child, family, or service characteristics and discontinuity. For the systematic review, an explicit search strategy is specified in order to conduct a replicable review, including the dates of searches, search engines and databases used, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and search terms. Search terms are derived using keywords from other studies and by searching database thesauruses. Also, the search strategy is checked by examining whether important articles are captured. The second paper describes exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses implemented to develop a scale for caregiver commitment, a proximal measure to discontinuity. The psychometric properties of the caregiver commitment variable are discussed and described, including its internal consistency reliability in the sample. Also, this caregiver commitment variable is included as an outcome variable in a multivariate regression model to investigate the relationship between child behavior problems and caregiver commitment, holding the effects of other potential confounding variables constant. The third study examines the effects of the Illinois Adoption Preservation and Linkages Program (APAL) on child behavior problems and caregiver commitment, two outcomes considered to be proximal to discontinuity. APAL is a post-permanency intervention designed to decrease discontinuity for adolescent youth in legally permanent adoption or guardianship homes. In the study, average treatment effects for APAL are estimated for assignment to treatment, analogous to an intent-to-treat effect, as well as for treatment compliers. Overall, dissertation findings suggest several risk factors for poor post-adoption or guardianship child and family adjustment, including an older child age, child behavior problems, a child history of sexual or physical abuse, inadequate information given to caretakers, and unrealistic expectations of caretakers. In addition, results show that the caregiver commitment scale developed from survey data is a useful proximal measure to detect post-permanency family problems that may occur prior to discontinuity. This dissertation also provides evidence that the APAL intervention is associated with fewer child behavior problems, and that APAL may also improve caregiver commitment, but the findings for caregiver commitment are inconclusive. Areas for future research are highlighted in each of the papers, and this dissertation demonstrates that, overall, more rigorous research is needed to understand the strengths and needs of post-adoption and guardianship families, and to develop effective post-permanency interventions.
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  • In Copyright
  • Testa, Mark
  • Fraser, Mark W.
  • Snyder, Susan
  • Rolock, Nancy
  • Liao, Minli
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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