Documenting the Diversity in Foster Care Systems
Children in the foster system are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society, and they have systematically worse outcomes than their peers across a variety of measures. In an effort to help children in foster care, researchers have created several high-quality datasets that follow children who enter the foster system (for example, the National Youth in Transition Database).
Although we have good data on foster children and their outcomes, we have surprisingly little data on foster systems themselves. Anecdotally, we know that foster systems vary considerably from state to state and have evolved over time. Thus, there is no such thing as the U.S. foster system; rather there are many different foster systems across the country.
We plan to create a database that documents the diversity in foster care systems across states and over time. Researchers can then combine data on foster care systems with existing data on foster child outcomes to address a host of important research questions on how the characteristics of a foster system affect children. The database has the potential to transform long-held assumptions about everything from foster child mental health to racial gaps in the foster system to the design of substance abuse interventions that help parents to reunite with their children.