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University of Wisconsin

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Title: Do Foster Care Placement and ‘Aging Out’ of Care Lead to Poor Educational, Social, and Economic Outcomes? 

Abstract: Child protective services (CPS) systems in the United States are charged with promoting child safety, permanency (stable, long-term living arrangements), and wellbeing by responding to allegations of abuse and neglect and intervening to protect maltreated children. CPS involvement and, to a lesser extent, resulting foster care placement are relatively common experiences for American children, particularly low-income children and children of color. A large literature indicates that, on average, children who experience CPS-involvement and, especially, foster care placement experience adverse educational, social and economic outcomes throughout the life course. Moreover, nearly half of all youth who experience foster care as adolescents emancipate from (age out of) care by reaching the age of majority without having been reunified with their family of origin, adopted, or exited to another permanent living arrangement. On average, these youth fare particularly poorly in adulthood and have thus become an increasing focus of U.S. child welfare policy and practice. Yet, data and methodological limitations of prior research have precluded determination of whether foster care placement or aging out of care, themselves, cause (or worsen) poor life course trajectories as opposed to failing to (fully) compensate for prior or ongoing disadvantage and adverse experiences that lead to poor outcomes even in the absence of foster care placement or aging out of care. This seminar highlights several recent collaborative studies leveraging extensive linked multi-system longitudinal administrative data spanning the full population of children and families who have been involved in social welfare programs in the State of Wisconsin to construct multiple counterfactual conditions against which to assess the likelihood that foster care placement or aging out of care, themselves, are likely causally related to poor educational achievement and attainment, teen pregnancy, low employment and earnings, and incarceration.

Bio: Lawrence (Lonnie) M. Berger is Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in the Social Sciences, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the School of Social Work, and past Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on the ways in which economic resources, sociodemographic characteristics, and public policies affect parental behaviors and child and family wellbeing.