Entry and Exit Disparities in the Tennessee Foster Care System
Fred Wulczyn, Bridgette Lery, Jennifer Miller Haight2006
Although the rate of racial disproportionality in foster care placement is relatively low in Tennessee when compared to other states, African American children are nevertheless overrepresented in Tennessee's foster care system. Tennessee is a large and geographically diverse state with significant local variation in the use of foster care. The study seeks to understand that variation in order to better understand disparities in the use of foster care and to point to strategies that may bring greater equity to the delivery of child welfare services. The study is based on Tennessee children first placed in foster care between 2000 and 2005, inclusive. The first part of the analysis focuses on entry rates and differences in the likelihood that children will enter foster care. Disparity ranges from nearly none in some regions to other regions where the African American placement rate is almost four times the white rate. The report also examines how entry rate disparities at the county level vary in relation to characteristics of the local population. African American placement rates are closer to white placement rates in counties with higher concentrations of adults without a high school degree and female-headed families. The second part of the report examines exit patterns in order to assess how length of stay and exit type influence disproportionality. After adjusting for other attributes, among children who are either reunified or adopted, white children exit more quickly. Among children discharged to a relative's care, African American children move more quickly even though children placed with relatives stay longer than children in other placement settings, regardless of race.