Family preservation, reunification, and out-of-home care: Informing child welfare policy

Lindsay E. Steigner (2007)

This dissertation questions long-standing assumptions regarding the placement decisions of the child welfare system. While many assume preservation of or reunification with children's biological families to be ideal child welfare outcomes, national data speaking to rates of recurring abuse in different placement settings are explored for quantitative validation. An historical account of child maltreatment in the United States is provided, including significant legal developments, corresponding sociopolitical attitudes, and key terms. The process of child welfare investigations and trends in child welfare decision making are outlined along with the concept of the best interests of the child (Goldstein, Freud, & Solnit, 1973). The construct of recidivism is addressed and research speaking specifically to child maltreatment recidivism is outlined. Risk of recidivistic abuse is discussed in the context of placement instability, occurring both within populations of children who reside in multiple out-of-home environments and also those who are repeatedly removed from their families' homes due to abuse or neglect. Data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW Research Group, 2002) were used to analyze recidivistic abuse reports by placement type, placement stability, and the receipt of family preservation or reunification services. Results indicate that children who remain with their families of origin experience a higher proportion of repeated reports of abuse compared to those placed in alternative, stable living environments. The data have implications for research, clinical practice, and federal child welfare policy.