Foster placement not sole factor in lagging academic achievement

1. Children with child protective services (CPS) involvement and/or out-of-home placement (OHP) have lower standardized test scores than the general population.

2. Children with CPS involvement with no removal from the home and those children in OHP did not have significantly different academic outcomes.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

Study Rundown: A staggering 6.3 million children are reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) annually in the United States; additionally, 8% of all children, and 12% of black children, will experience out-of-home (OHP) placement by age 18, indicating the high prevalence of state guardianship affecting the pediatric population. Previous literature on children in foster care has linked such a housing situation to worse developmental outcomes, though any adversity may be due to a resource-limited socioeconomic situation rather than the foster home placement itself. This large study examined the relationship between Wisconsin standardized test scores and OHP placement to examine the potential affect of OHP on academic achievement. Results indicated that OHP children fared worse than the general population in terms of academic achievement; however, the study also indicated that temporal (past, present, future) OHP placement and general CPS involvement without OHP placement were both not significantly different from a non-CPS involved socioeconomically disadvantaged group. Though limited in its data collection through standardized test scores in a single state, this study suggests that OHP placement it itself is not correlated to academic achievement, instead suggesting that further evaluation and policies targeting resource-limited socioeconomic children and their families may be most beneficial.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Cumulative Risks of Foster Care Placement by Age 18 for US Children, 2000 – 2011

In-Depth [retrospective study]: Through retrospective analysis, researchers used annual standardized exams for 222 049 children in grades 3 through 8 at Wisconsin public schools as a surrogate for academic achievement, resulting in 529 597 child-year observations. Children were divided into 5 categories: 1) OHP at time of exam, 2) OHP at some point < 12 months from time of exam, but not during exam, 3) investigated by CPS 1-5 months prior to exam without removal from home at time of exam, but with OHP after the exam and within 6 months of initial CPS investigation, 4) CPS investigation < 12 months prior to exam without home removal prior to exam or afterwards, 5) receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits without CPS involvement or OHP. Group 5 acted as a control of similar socioeconomic background for the remaining groups. All 5 groups scored significantly worse than the general population, with OHP students scoring at least 0.6 standard deviations below average. However, differences amongst all 5 groups were minimal, suggesting that OHP by itself is not related to academic achievement.

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