Reorienting the Foster Care System Toward Children’s Best Interests

  • Sarah A. Font
  • Elizabeth T. Gershoff
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


This chapter provides a template for evaluating and reforming the U.S. foster care system to prioritize the best interests of children. We draw on the subspecialty of program evaluation to construct a logic model for the foster care system that connects the system’s inputs (resources), activities, outputs (intended results of fidelity to program model), and outcomes (intended intermediate and long-term impacts). We emphasize that most evaluations of foster care to date focus on process (activities and outputs) rather than long-term outcomes for children. We suggest a need for systemic and ongoing impact evaluation—a test of how foster care affects children’s later safety and well-being. In addition, the activities and outputs in our model largely reflect the processes and priorities suggested by federal policies and federal performance goals, rather than research evidence on the core components of an effective foster care system. We welcome a rigorous evaluation of our model’s core assumptions, specifically how system activities and outputs, such as referral to child or parent treatment services, permanency, or sibling placement, impact child safety and well-being.


Foster care Child maltreatment Best interests of the child System reform Impact evaluation Logic model 


  1. Aarons, G. A., James, S., Monn, A. R., Raghavan, R., Wells, R. S., & Leslie, L. K. (2010). Behavior problems and placement change in a national child welfare sample: A prospective study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(1), 70–80. Scholar
  2. Administration for Children and Families. (2012). Information memorandum: Promoting social and emotional well-being for children and youth receiving child welfare services (No. ACYF-CB-IM-12-04). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau website:
  3. Administration for Children and Families. (2014). Final Notice of statewide data indicators and national standards for Child and Family Services Reviews. Washington, DC: Children’s Bureau.Google Scholar
  4. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (2011). Double jeopardy: Caseworkers at risk helping at-risk kids. Retrieved from
  5. Andersen, S. H., & Fallesen, P. (2015). Family matters? The effect of kinship care on foster care disruption rates. Child Abuse & Neglect, 48, 68–79. Scholar
  6. Ayre, P. (2001). Child protection and the media: Lessons from the last three decades. British Journal of Social Work, 31(6), 887–901. Scholar
  7. Barth, R. P., & Jonson-Reid, M. (2000). Outcomes after child welfare services: Implications for the design of performance measures. Children and Youth Services Review, 22(9), 763–787. Scholar
  8. Bellamy, J. L. (2008). Behavioral problems following reunification of children in long-term foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(2), 216–228. Scholar
  9. Ben-Arieh, A. (2008). The child indicators movement: Past, present, and future. Child Indicators Research, 1(1), 3–16. Scholar
  10. Biehal, N. (2007). Reuniting children with their families: Reconsidering the evidence on timing, contact and outcomes. British Journal of Social Work, 37(5), 807–823. Scholar
  11. Biehal, N., & Parry, E. (2010). Maltreatment and allegations of maltreatment in foster care: A review of the evidence. Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.Google Scholar
  12. Bipartisan Budget Act. (2018). Pub. L. No. 115–123, § Title VII: Family First Prevention Services Act.Google Scholar
  13. California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare. (2019). Topic: Child welfare workforce development and support programs. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from
  14. Campbell, D. T. (1979). Assessing the impact of planned social change. Evaluation and Program Planning, 2(1), 67–90. Scholar
  15. Chamberlain, P. (2003). The Oregon multidimensional treatment foster care model: Features, outcomes, and progress in dissemination. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 10(4), 303–312. Scholar
  16. Chamberlain, P., Moreland, S., & Reid, K. (1992). Enhanced services and stipends for foster parents: Effects on retention rates and outcomes for children. Child Welfare, 71(5), 387–401.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Chenot, D. (2011). The vicious cycle: Recurrent interactions among the media, politicians, the public, and child welfare services organizations. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 5(2–3), 167–184. Scholar
  18. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014). Home study requirements for prospective foster parents. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  19. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). Disclosure of confidential child abuse and neglect records. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau website:
  20. Chronicle of Social Change. (2018). Who cares: A national count of foster homes and families. Retrieved from Chronicle of Social Change website:
  21. Clemens, E. V., Klopfenstein, K., Lalonde, T. L., & Tis, M. (2018). The effects of placement and school stability on academic growth trajectories of students in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 87, 86–94. Scholar
  22. Clifford, S., & Silver-Greenberg, J. (2017, July 21). Foster care as punishment: The new reality of ‘Jane Crow.’ The New York Times.Google Scholar
  23. Collins-Camargo, C., Buckwalter, N., & Jones, B. (2016). Perceptions of state child welfare administrators regarding federally-mandated citizen review panels. Children and Youth Services Review, 62, 83–89. Scholar
  24. DePasquale, E. (2017). State of the child: A look at the strengths and challenges of Pennsylvania’s child-welfare system and the safety of at-risk children. Retrieved from Auditor General website:
  25. Dewan, S. (2018, November 2). Family separation: It’s a problem for U.S. citizens, too. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  26. Dorsey, S., Farmer, E. M., Barth, R. P., Greene, K. M., Reid, J., & Landsverk, J. (2008). Current status and evidence base of training for foster and treatment foster parents. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(12), 1403–1416. Scholar
  27. Edwards, F. (2016). Saving children, controlling families: Punishment, redistribution, and child protection. American Sociological Review, 81(3), 575–595. Scholar
  28. Egbert, S. C., & Lamont, E. C. (2004). Factors contributing to parents’ preparation for special-needs adoption. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21(6), 593–609. Scholar
  29. Ellett, A. J., & Leighninger, L. (2006). What happened? An historical analysis of the de-professionalization of child welfare with implications for policy and practice. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 1(1), 3–34. Scholar
  30. Fechter-Leggett, M. O., & O’Brien, K. (2010). The effects of kinship care on adult mental health outcomes of alumni of foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(2), 206–213. Scholar
  31. Festinger, T. (2014). Adoption disruption. In G. P. Mallon & P. McCartt Hess (Eds.), Child welfare for the 21st Century: A handbook of practices, policies, and programs (pp. 437–454). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Festinger, T., & Baker, A. J. L. (2013). The quality of evaluations of foster parent training: An empirical review. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(12), 2147–2153. Scholar
  33. Fisher, P. A., & Chamberlain, P. (2000). Multidimensional treatment foster care: A program for intensive parenting, family support, and skill building. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8(3), 155–164. Scholar
  34. Font, S. A. (2014). Kinship and nonrelative foster care: The effect of placement type on child well-being. Child Development, 85(5), 2074–2090. Scholar
  35. Font, S. A. (2015). Is higher placement stability in kinship foster care by virtue or design? Child Abuse & Neglect, 42(4), 99–111. Scholar
  36. Font, S. A., & Berger, L. M. (2015). Child maltreatment and children’s developmental trajectories in early to middle childhood. Child Development, 86(2), 536–556. Scholar
  37. Font, S. A., Berger, L. M., Cancian, M., & Noyes, J. L. (2018). Permanency and the educational and economic attainment of former foster children in early adulthood. American Sociological Review, 83(4), 716–743. Scholar
  38. Font, S. A., Cancian, M., & Berger, L. M. (2019). Prevalence and risk factors for early motherhood among low-income, maltreated, and foster youth. Demography, 56, 261–284. Scholar
  39. Font, S. A., Sattler, K. M. P., & Gershoff, E. T. (2018). Measurement and correlates of foster care placement moves. Children and Youth Services Review, 91, 248–258. Scholar
  40. Geiger, J. M., Hayes, M. J., & Lietz, C. A. (2013). Should I stay or should I go? A mixed methods study examining the factors influencing foster parents’ decisions to continue or discontinue providing foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 35(9), 1356–1365. Scholar
  41. Government Accountability Office. (2015). HHS could do more to support states’ efforts to keep children in family-based care (No. GAO-16-85). Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  42. Hayduk, I. (2017). The effect of kinship placement laws on foster children’s well-being. The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 17(1), 1–23. Scholar
  43. Hegar, R. L., & Rosenthal, J. A. (2011). Foster children placed with or separated from siblings: Outcomes based on a national sample. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(7), 1245–1253. Scholar
  44. Heimpel, D. (2019, June 19). Can predictive analytics root out the social workers most likely to break up Black families? Retrieved July 19, 2019, from The Chronicle of Social Change website:
  45. Illinois Office of the Auditor General. (2019). Performance audit of the Department of Children and Family Services investigations of abuse and neglect. Retrieved from
  46. Jagannathan, R., & Camasso, M. J. (2013). The crucial role played by social outrage in efforts to reform child protective services. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(6), 894–900. Scholar
  47. Lau, A. S., Litrownik, A. J., Newton, R. R., & Landsverk, J. (2003). Going home: The complex effects of reunification on internalizing problems among children in foster care. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31(4), 345–358. Scholar
  48. Leathers, S. J. (2005). Separation from siblings: Associations with placement adaptation and outcomes among adolescents in long-term foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(7), 793–819. Scholar
  49. Lewandowski, C. A. (1998). Retention outcomes of a public child welfare long-term training program. Professional Development, 1(2), 38–46.Google Scholar
  50. Linares, L. O., Li, M., Shrout, P. E., Brody, G. H., & Pettit, G. S. (2007). Placement shift, sibling relationship quality, and child outcomes in foster care: A controlled study. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(4), 736. Scholar
  51. Lippman, L. H., Moore, K. A., & McIntosh, H. (2011). Positive indicators of child well-being: A conceptual framework, measures, and methodological issues. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 6(4), 425–449. Scholar
  52. Middleton, J. S., Bloom, S. L., Strolin-Goltzman, J., & Caringi, J. (2019). Trauma-informed care and the public child welfare system: The challenges of shifting paradigms: Introduction to the special issue on trauma-informed care. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 13(3), 235–244. Scholar
  53. Murray, K. J., Sullivan, K. M., Lent, M. C., Chaplo, S. D., & Tunno, A. M. (2019). Promoting trauma-informed parenting of children in out-of-home care: An effectiveness study of the resource parent curriculum. Psychological Services, 16(1), 162–169. Scholar
  54. Office of the Inspector General. (2002a). Recruiting foster parents (No. OEI-07-00-00600). Retrieved from
  55. Office of the Inspector General. (2002b). Retaining foster parents (No. OEI-07-00-00601). Retrieved from
  56. Oosterman, M., Schuengel, C., Wim Slot, N., Bullens, R. A., & Doreleijers, T. A. (2007). Disruptions in foster care: A review and meta-analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(1), 53–76. Scholar
  57. Pennsylvania Office of the Auditor General. (2017). State of the Child: A look at the strengths and challenges of Pennsylvania’s child-welfare system and the safety of at-risk children. Retrieved from Auditor General website:
  58. Price, J. M., Chamberlain, P., Landsverk, J., & Reid, J. (2009). KEEP foster-parent training intervention: Model description and effectiveness. Child & Family Social Work, 14(2), 233–242. Scholar
  59. Price, J. M., Chamberlain, P., Landsverk, J., Reid, J. B., Leve, L. D., & Laurent, H. (2008). Effects of a foster parent training intervention on placement changes of children in foster care. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 64–75. Scholar
  60. Price, J. M., Roesch, S. C., & Walsh, N. E. (2012). Effectiveness of the KEEP foster parent intervention during an implementation trial. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(12), 2487–2494. Scholar
  61. Price, J. M., Roesch, S., Walsh, N. E., & Landsverk, J. (2015). Effects of the KEEP foster parent intervention on child and sibling behavior problems and parental stress during a randomized implementation trial. Prevention Science, 16(5), 685–695. Scholar
  62. Prottas, J. M. (1978). The power of the street-level bureaucrat in public service bureaucracies. Urban Affairs Quarterly, 13(3), 285–312. Scholar
  63. Raz, M., & Sankaran, V. (2019). Opposing Family Separation Policies for the Welfare of Children. American Journal of Public Health, 109(11), 1529–1530. Scholar
  64. Redding, R. E., Fried, C., & Britner, P. A. (2000). Predictors of placement outcomes in treatment foster care: Implications for foster parent selection and service delivery. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9(4), 425–447. Scholar
  65. Rhodes, K., Cox, E. M., Orme, J. G., & Coakley, T. (2006). Foster parent’s reasons for fostering and foster family utilization. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 33, 105–126.Google Scholar
  66. Roberts, D. E. (2012). Prison, foster care, and the systemic punishment of black mothers. UCLA Law Review, 59, 1474–1501.Google Scholar
  67. Rork, K. E., & McNeil, C. B. (2011). Evaluation of foster parent training programs: A critical review. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 33(2), 139–170. Scholar
  68. Rubin, D. M., Downes, K. J., O’Reilly, A. L. R., Mekonnen, R., Luan, X., & Localio, R. (2008). Impact of kinship care on behavioral well-being for children in out-of-home care. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 162(6), 550–556. Scholar
  69. Ryan, J. P., Hong, J. S., Herz, D., & Hernandez, P. M. (2010). Kinship foster care and the risk of juvenile delinquency. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1823–1830. Scholar
  70. Sakai, C., Lin, H., & Flores, G. (2011). Health outcomes and family services in kinship care: Analysis of a national sample of children in the child welfare system. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 165(2), 159–165. Scholar
  71. Sankaran, V. (2010). A hidden crisis: The need to strengthen representation of parents in child protective proceedings. Retrieved from
  72. Sattler, K. M. P., Font, S. A., & Gershoff, E. T. (2018). Age-specific risk factors associated with placement instability among foster children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 84, 157–169. Scholar
  73. Sattler, K. M. P., & Gershoff, E. (2019). Thresholds of resilience and within- and cross-domain academic achievement among children in poverty. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 46, 87–96. Scholar
  74. Schmidt, D. M., Rosenthal, J. A., & Bombeck, B. (1988). Parents’ views of adoption disruption. Children and Youth Services Review, 10(2), 119–130. Scholar
  75. Stacks, A. M., Beeghly, M., Partridge, T., & Dexter, C. (2011). Effects of placement type on the language developmental trajectories of maltreated children from infancy to early childhood. Child Maltreatment, 16(4), 287–299. Scholar
  76. Strand, V. C., Dettlaff, A. J., & Counts-Spriggs, M. (2015). Promising Innovations in Child Welfare Education: Findings From a National Initiative. Journal of Social Work Education, 51, S195–S208. Scholar
  77. Strolin-Goltzman, J., McCrae, J., & Emery, T. (2018). Trauma-informed resource parent training and the impact on knowledge acquisition, parenting self-efficacy, and child behavior outcomes: A pilot of the Resource Parent Curriculum Parent Management Training (RPC+). Journal of Public Child Welfare, 12(2), 136–152. Scholar
  78. Sullivan, K. M., Murray, K. J., & Ake, G. S. (2016). Trauma-informed care for children in the child welfare system: An initial evaluation of a trauma-informed parenting workshop. Child Maltreatment, 21(2), 147–155. Scholar
  79. Taussig, H. N., Clyman, R. B., & Landsverk, J. (2001). Children who return home from foster care: A 6-Year prospective study of behavioral health outcomes in adolescence. Pediatrics, 108(1), e10–e10. Scholar
  80. U.S. Government Accountability Office. (2018). Additional actions could help HHS better support states’ use of private providers to recruit and retain foster families (Report to Congressional Requesters No. 18–376). Retrieved from
  81. UNICEF Office of Research. (2013). Child well-being in rich countries: A Comparative overview. Innocenti report card 11. Retrieved from UNICEF Office of Research website:
  82. Wiltz, T. (2016). Foster parents have become professionals in some states. Retrieved from
  83. Winokur, M., Holtan, A., & Batchelder, K. E. (2014). Kinship care for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children removed from the home for maltreatment. Campbell Systematic Reviews. Scholar
  84. Wu, Q., White, K. R., & Coleman, K. L. (2015). Effects of kinship care on behavioral problems by child age: A propensity score analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 57, 1–8. Scholar
  85. Wulczyn, F., Orlebeke, B., Hislop, K., Schmits, F., McClanahan, J., & Huang, L. (2018). The Dynamics of foster home recruitment and retention. Retrieved from Chapin Hall; The Center for State Child Welfare Data website:

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and CriminologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Development and Family SciencesUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations