Child Welfare and the Transition to Adulthood: Investigating Placement Status and Subsequent Arrests

Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron, Hui Huang

May 27 / Journal Publication

Studies of the transition to adulthood in child welfare focus almost exclusively on youth in foster care. Yet, research indicates that maltreated children who remain in the home may display similar risks as compared with their peers in formal foster care settings. Utilizing administrative data from child welfare, juvenile justice and adult corrections, the current study fills a gap in the literature by analyzing justice outcomes for older adolescents involved with the child welfare system regardless of their placement status. We focus on both intact family cases and formal foster care placements. The diverse sample (11% Hispanic, 8% African American, 6% Native American, 9% multi-racial, 56% female) included open child welfare cases involving 17 year olds (n = 9874). Twenty-nine percent of adolescents were associated with a long term out of home placement and 62% were associated with an intact family case. Event history models were developed to estimate the risk of subsequent offending. Adolescents associated with long term foster care placement were significantly less likely to experience a subsequent arrest as compared with adolescents associated with a long term intact family case. Males, African Americans and adolescents associated with neglect were also more likely to experience a subsequent arrest. Limited focus on the intact family population in child welfare represents a lost opportunity to support critical developmental gains and facilitate a smooth transition to adulthood.

Ryan, J. P., Perron, B. E., & Huang, H. (2016). Child welfare and the transition to adulthood: Investigating placement status and subsequent arrests. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(1), 172-182.

Early Exposure to Child Maltreatment and Academic Outcomes

Joseph P. Ryan, Brian A. Jacob, Max Gross, Brian E. Perron, Andrew Moore, Sharlyn Ferguson

November 2018 / Journal Publication

Early childhood trauma increases the risk of academic difficulties. The purpose of this study was to investigate the prevalence of early contact with child protection services (CPS) and to determine whether early exposure to maltreatment investigations was associated with important academic outcomes. The authors focused specifically on standardized test scores (math and reading), grade retention, and special education status in third grade. The sample was diverse and included all children born between 2000 and 2006 and enrolled in Michigan’s public schools (N = 732,838). By the time these students reached third grade, approximately 18% were associated with a formal CPS investigation. In some school districts, more than 50% of third graders were associated with an investigation. African American and poor students were more likely to be investigated for maltreatment. Children associated with maltreatment investigations scored significantly lower on standardized math and reading tests, were more likely to be identified as needing special education, and were more likely to be held back at least one grade. These findings indicate that involvement with CPS is not an infrequent event in the lives of young children and that within some school districts, maltreatment investigations are the norm. Child welfare and educational systems must collaborate so that the early academic struggles experienced by victims of maltreatment do not mature into more complicated difficulties later in life.

Ryan, J. P., Jacob, B. A., Gross, M., Perron, B. E., Moore, A., & Ferguson, S. (2018). Early Exposure to Child Maltreatment and Academic Outcomes. Child Maltreatment, 23(4), 365–375.

Identification of Domestic Violence Service Needs Among Child Welfare-Involved Parents with Substance Use Disorders: A Gender-Stratified Analysis

Bryan G. Victor, Stella M. Resko, Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron

April 2018 / Journal Publication

The current study examined the prevalence and associations of a need for domestic violence services among child welfare–involved mothers and fathers with substance use disorders. Data were drawn from 2,231 child welfare–involved parents in Illinois with an identified substance use disorder. Approximately 42% of mothers and 33% of fathers with a substance use disorder had a concurrent need for domestic violence services. The sample was stratified by gender and logistic regression models were fit to determine the adjusted odds of an identified need for domestic violence services. For both mothers and fathers, the strongest association was an additional need for mental health services. Age, education status, alcohol use, marijuana use, and a reported history of physical violence victimization were also associated with a need for domestic violence services among mothers, while race, age, marital status, annual income, alcohol use, cocaine use, and a reported history of physical violence perpetration were associated with a need for domestic violence services among fathers. The findings of this study make clear that domestic violence is a commonly co-occurring service need for child welfare–involved parents with identified substance use disorders, and that associations with this need vary by gender.

Victor B.G., Resko, S.M., Ryan, J.P., & Perron, B.E. (2018). Identification of domestic violence service needs among child welfare-involved parents with substance use disorders: A gender-stratified analysis. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-23.

Principals: More of Your Students Might Be Abused or Neglected Than You Think

Sarah D. Sparks

March 2018 / News

In Education Week, Brian Jacob and Joseph Ryan discuss how abuse and neglect affects achievement in schools. Generally, principals and teachers are not notified of child welfare investigations, even if there is a formal confirmation of abuse or if the child is removed from the home—but the effects do make themselves known. While the study looked only at Michigan, it is in line with other studies that suggest about 20 percent of children experience this sort of trauma. And as the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to track the educational progress of vulnerable students like those in foster care, more states may begin to look at the rates of abused children in their own districts. The results of the study may make policymakers and educators rethink the structure of initiatives such as retaining students who cannot read proficiently by the end of grade 3. Falling behind may be a warning sign that these students need counseling or other emotional support, not just academic enrichment.

Sparks, S. (2018, March 27). Principals: More of your students might be abused or neglected than you think. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

How Life Outside of School Affects Student Performance in School

Brian A. Jacob, Joseph P. Ryan

March 2018 / Report

This report presents findings from a unique partnership between the University of Michigan and the State that allowed us to match the universe of child maltreatment records in Michigan with educational data on all public school children in the state. We find that roughly 18 percent of third-grade students have been subject to at least one formal investigation for child maltreatment. In some schools, more than fifty percent of third graders have experienced an investigation for maltreatment. These estimates indicate that child abuse and neglect cannot simply be treated like a secondary issue, but must be a central concern of school personnel.

Jacob, B.A., & Ryan, J.P. (2018). How life outside of school affects student performance in school (Evidence Speaks Reports, Vol 2, #44). Available at The Brookings Institution Website

Domestic Violence, Parental Substance Misuse and the Decision to Substantiate Child Maltreatment

Bryan G. Victor, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron, Terri Ticknor Gilbert

May 2018 / Journal Publication

Families that experience domestic violence and parental substance misuse are disproportionately involved with the child welfare system. Prior research suggests that child protective services (CPS) caseworkers are more likely to substantiate maltreatment allegations when domestic violence and parental substance misuse are identified during the investigation, pointing to one possible mechanism for this disproportionate involvement. While previous studies have relied on nationally representative data sets, the current study used administrative records from a large Midwestern child welfare agency that accounts for state-level variation in child welfare policy and practice. A total of 501,060 substantiation decisions made between 2009 and 2013 were examined to assess the influence of caseworker-perceived domestic violence and parental substance misuse on the decision to substantiate reported maltreatment. Results from multilevel modeling suggest that the identification of domestic violence and parental substance misuse during an investigation significantly increased the probability that an allegation would be substantiated. The implication of these findings for child welfare practice are considered in light of the fact that many child welfare agencies do not consider exposure to domestic violence and parental substance misuse in and of themselves to constitute child maltreatment.

Victor B.G., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Ryan, J.P., Perron, B.E., & Gilbert, T.T. (2018). Domestic violence, parental substance misuse and the decision to substantiate child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 79, 31-41.

In Utero Exposure to Opioids: An Observational Study of Mothers Involved in the Child Welfare System

Gregory Bushman, Bryan G. Victor, Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron

December 2017 / Journal Publication

Background: Women are underrepresented in the current substance abuse research; however, women are a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to opioid use and abuse. Pregnant women are even more so, because of the potential that exists for in utero exposure (IUE) to substances. Objectives: To identify trends in IUE to opioids in order to ensure that resources are allocated effectively to address the current opioid epidemic and to assist the populations most affected by it. Methods: This study draws on 15 years’ worth of clinical assessment data collected from 3598 child welfare-involved mothers to assess for trends in IUE to substances over time. Data from the last 5 year period (N = 852) are then analyzed to identify recent demographic correlates associated with IUE to opioid substances. Results: A substantial increase in the rates of IUE to opioids over the past 15 years is observed among child welfare-involved mothers. Moreover, we find that race is a significant correlate of IUE to opioids. Conclusion: Study findings are consistent with other recent research that demonstrates racial differences in the populations that are most affected by the opioid epidemic; however, more research is needed to determine how these racial differences in rates of IUE to opioids affect child welfare outcomes.

Bushman, G., Ryan, J.P., Victor, B.G., & Perron, B.E. (2017). In utero exposure to opioids: An observational study of mothers involved in the child welfare system. Substance Use & Misuse, 1-8.

Disparities at Adjudication in the Juvenile Justice System: An Examination of Race, Gender, and Age

Michael Evangelist, Joseph P. Ryan, Bryan G. Victor, Andrew Moore, Brian E. Perron

November 2017 / Journal Publication

Black and male youths are overrepresented at every stage of juvenile justice processing. The current study investigated racial, gender, and age disparities in the probability of a formal adjudication using administrative data (N = 12,070) from a large, urban county in the Midwest. The authors extend previous work by considering the joint effect of race, gender, and age on formal adjudications in the juvenile justice system. The findings indicate that being black, male, and in the middle of the juvenile court’s age jurisdiction were associated with an increase in the probability of receiving a formal adjudication, after controlling for prior referrals and the type and severity of the underlying offense. The magnitude of racial and gender disparities differed across age and was greatest for the least serious offenses. Through the application of graphical analyses, the authors identify youths most at risk of disparate treatment.

Evangelist, M., Ryan, J.P., Victor, B.G., Moore, A., & Perron, B.E. (2017). Disparities at adjudication in the juvenile justice system: An examination of race, gender, and age. Social Work Research, 41, 199-212.

Parental Substance Use and Foster Care Reentry

Orion Mowbray, Bryan G. Victor, Joseph P. Ryan, Andrew Moore, Brian E. Perron

August 2017 / Journal Publication

Foster care involvement due to parental substance use is a common problem with many challenges associated with service delivery. Using administrative data from a Midwestern state between the years 2009 and 2015 (N = 17,420), this study examines characteristics of substance-abusing families at the time of entry into the foster care system and estimates the risk of reentry subsequent to reunification. Bivariate findings and survival analysis for reentry suggests substance-using parents are more likely to be involved in additional allegations associated with foster care involvement. These results highlight the need for improved services integration and coordinated delivery among service systems.

Mowbray, O., Victor, B.G., Ryan, J.P., Moore, A., & Perron, B.E. (2017). Parental substance use and foster care reentry. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 17, 352-373.

Timing Matters: A Randomized Control Trial of Recovery Coaches in Foster Care

Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron, Andrew Moore, Bryan G. Victor, Keunhye Park

June 2017 / Journal Publication

Substance use disorders are a major problem for child welfare systems. The abuse of and dependence on alcohol and drugs by parents increases the risk of child maltreatment and interferes with efforts to locate a permanent home for children in foster care. The current study focuses on an intervention designed to increase the probability of reunification for foster children associated with substance using families. We focus specific attention on the timing of the intervention, in particular the timing of comprehensive screening and access to substance abuse services in relation to the temporary custody hearing. A diverse group of children (n = 3440) that were placed in foster care and associated with a parent diagnosed with a substance use disorder were randomly assigned to either a control (services as usual) or experimental group (services as usual plus a recovery coach for parents). Binomial logistic regression models indicated that early access to substance use services matters (within two months of the temporary custody hearing) but only when parents were connected with a recovery coach. Additional findings indicated that the recovery coach model eliminated racial disparities in reunification. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Ryan, J.P., Perron, B.E., Moore, A., Victor, B.G., & Park, K. (2017). Timing matters: A randomized control trial of recovery coaches in foster care. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 77, 178-184.

Longitudinal Trends in Substance Use and Mental Health Service Needs in Child Welfare

Orion Mowbray, Joseph P. Ryan, Bryan G. Victor, Gregory Bushman, Clayton Yochum, Brian E. Perron

February 2017 / Journal Publication

Caregiver substance use and mental health problems have long been discussed as concerns in promoting positive child welfare outcomes. Yet the absence of longitudinal data focused on racial/ethnic differences in service needs and substance use has limited child welfare systems in their ability to address potential disparities. This study examines racial/ethnic trends in service needs and patterns of substances used among child welfare-involved caregivers over a 15-year period (2000–2015) from a large, urban county located in the Midwestern United States. Substance use service needs showed an increase over time among White non-Hispanic individuals, and declined over time for all racial/ethnic minority groups. Mental health service needs increased over time, with White non-Hispanic individuals experiencing the largest increase. Co-occurring service needs showed a moderate increase for all groups. Trends associated with service needs across the lifespan were relatively similar across racial and ethnic groups, with needs peaking between ages 30 and 35. When examining specific substances used, cocaine use decreased over time for all individuals. However, marijuana use increased substantially for Black/African American individuals, while opioid use increased substantially for White non-Hispanic individuals. These results highlight key areas where trends among child welfare-involved caregivers differ from population-based trends and suggest that improved coordination between child welfare agencies, mental health and substance use treatment providers may be a key step in reducing the disparities observed.

Mowbray, O., Ryan, J.P., Victor, B.G., Bushman, G., Yochum, C., & Perron, B.E. (2017). Longitudinal trends in substance use and mental health service needs in child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 73, 1-8.

Recovery Coaches and the Stability of Reunification for Substance Abusing Families in Child Welfare

Joseph P. Ryan, Bryan G. Victor, Andrew Moore, Orion Mowbray, Brian E. Perron

November 2016 / Journal Publication

Substance abuse is a long-standing challenge for child welfare systems. Parental substance abuse disrupts family stability, family cohesion, and jeopardizes the well-being of children. In the current study we test an intervention to improve child welfare outcomes for substance abusing families, specifically the probability of families achieving a stable (at least 12 months) reunification. The intervention was an integrated case management model where recovery coaches were appointed to substance abusing parents associated with an open foster care placement. A diverse group of families (n = 1623) were randomly assigned to either a control group (services as usual) or an experimental group (services as usual plus a recovery coach). Multinomial logistic regression indicated that substance abusing parents associated with a recovery coach were significantly more likely to achieve a stable reunification as compared with similar families in the control group.

Ryan, J.P., Victor, B.G., Moore, A., Mowbray, O., & Perron, B.E. (2016). Recovery coaches and the stability of reunification for substance abusing families in child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 357-363.

Foster Home Licensing and Risk of Reentry to Out-of-home Care Following Family Reunification

Bryan G. Victor, Joseph P. Ryan, Andrew Moore, Orion Mowbray, Michael Evangelist, Brian E. Perron

November 2016 / Journal Publication

Family reunification without subsequent reentry is the primary permanency goal for children placed in foster care. While a number of placement-level factors have been examined for their effect on subsequent reentry to care, no study to date has considered foster care licensing. The current study uses statewide administrative data to construct a cohort of foster care youth who entered care between 2009 and 2012 and were reunified by the start of 2013 (N = 7752) to investigate the association between types of foster care and the probability of reentry to foster care up to two years following reunification. We focus specifically on the licensing status of foster homes, and employ propensity score analysis to address selection bias in placement type. A propensity-weighted cox proportional hazard model revealed that youth placed in licensed relative care (LRC) homes and licensed non-relative care (LNC) homes were more likely to reenter foster care than those youth placed in unlicensed relative care (URC) homes during their first spell of foster care.

Victor, B.G., Ryan, J.P., Moore, A., Mowbray, O., Evangelist, M., & Perron, B.E. (2016). Foster home licensing and risk of reentry to out-of-home care following family reunification. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 112-119.

Foster Home Placements and the Probability of Family Reunification: Does Licensing Matter?

Joseph P. Ryan, Brian E. Perron, Andrew Moore, Bryan Victor, Michael Evangelist

September 2016 / Journal Publication

The concept of foster care has been widely studied in child welfare. The literature is well developed with regard to the risk of initial placement, length of stay in care, placement stability, exits to permanency, and emancipation. Yet, the literature is woefully underdeveloped when it comes to understanding if variations in the types and characteristics of foster homes impact important child welfare outcomes. The current study utilizes entry cohorts pulled from statewide administrative data (N = 17,960) to investigate the association between types of foster care and the probability of reunification. We focus specifically on the licensing status of foster homes. Reflecting federal benchmarks, we examined the odds of reunification at one- and two-year intervals. Propensity score analysis was used to reduce selection bias. Adjusted logistic regression models revealed that youth placed in licensed relative care (LRC) homes were the least likely to achieve reunification compared with youth placed in licensed non-relative care (LNC) homes and unlicensed relative care (URC) homes. Conversely, youth placed in URC homes were more likely to achieve reunification as compared with youth placed in LRC and LNC homes. These findings will help states to efficiently target scarce resources to specific types of foster homes that may be impacting federal reunification benchmarks.

Ryan, J.P., Perron, B.E., Moore, A., Victor, B.G., & Evangelist, M. (2016). Foster home placements and the probability of family reunification: Does licensing matter? Child Abuse & Neglect, 59, 88-89.