Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 345–363 | Cite as

Challenges in Identifying Factors Which Determine the Placement of Children in Care? An International Review

  • Kish Bhatti-Sinclair
  • Charles Sutcliffe


Placing a child in out-of-home care is one of the most important decisions made by professionals in the child care system, with substantial social, psychological, educational, medical and economic consequences. This paper considers the challenges and difficulties of building statistical models of this decision by reviewing the available international evidence. Despite the large number of empirical investigations over a 50 year period, a consensus on the variables associated with this decision is hard to identify. In addition, the individual models have low explanatory and predictive power and should not be relied on to make placement decisions. A number of reasons for this poor performance are offered, and some ways forwards suggested. This paper also aims to facilitate the emergence of a coherent and integrated international literature from the disconnected and fragmented empirical studies. Rather than one placement problem, there are many slightly different problems, and therefore it is expected that a number of related sub-literatures will emerge, each concentrating on a particular definition of the placement problem.


Placement decision Foster care Out-of-home care Modelling 


  1. Andersen, S. H. (2010). A good place to live? on municipality characteristics and children’s placement risk. Social Services Review, 84(2), 201–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen, S. H., & Fallesen, P. (2010). A question of class: on the heterogeneous relationship between background characteristics and a child’s placement risk. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(6), 783–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barth, R. P., Lee, C. K., Wildfire, J., & Guo, S. (2006a). A comparison of the governmental costs of long-term foster care and adoption. Social Services Review, 80(1), 127–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barth, R. P., Wildfire, J., & Green, R. L. (2006b). Placement into foster care and the interplay of urbanicity child behaviour problems and poverty. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(3), 358–366.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bebbington, A. C., & Miles, J. B. (1988). A need indicator of in care services for children, Personal Social Services Research Unit, Discussion Paper 574, University of Kent, Kent.Google Scholar
  6. Bebbington, A., & Miles, J. (1989). The background of children who enter local authority care. British Journal of Social Work, 19(1), 349–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger, L. M. (2006). Children living out-of-home: effects of family and environmental characteristics. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(2), 158–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berger, L. M., & Waldfogel, J. (2004). Out-of-home placement of children and economic factors: an empirical analysis. Review of Economics of the Household, 2(4), 387–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boehm, B. (1962). An assessment of family adequacy in protective cases. Child Welfare, 41, 10–16.Google Scholar
  10. Breiman, L. (2001). Random forests. Machine Learning, 45(1), 5–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Briar, S. (1963). Clinical judgment in foster care placement. Child Welfare, 42, 161–169.Google Scholar
  12. Britner, P. A., & Mossler, D. G. (2002). Professionals’ decision making about out-of-home placements following instances of child abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 26(4), 317–332.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brooks, C. (2008). Introductory econometrics for finance, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carter, V. B. (2009). Prediction of placement into out-of-home care for American Indian/Alaskan natives compared to non-Indians. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(8), 840–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carter, V. B. (2010). Factors predicting placement of urban American Indian/Alaskan natives into out-of-home care. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(5), 657–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Catalano, R. A., Lind, S. L., Rosenblatt, A. B., & Attkisson, C. C. (1999). Unemployment and foster home placements: Estimating the net effect of provocation and inhibition. American Journal of Public Health, 89(6), 851–855.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chang, J., Rhee, S., & Weaver, D. (2006). Characteristics of child abuse in immigrant Korean families and correlates of placement decisions. Child Abuse and Neglect, 30(8), 881–891.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Children’s Bureau. (2012, July). AFCARS Report #19, US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Retrieved from Accessed 27 Oct 2012.
  19. Curtis, C. M., & Alexander, R. (2010). Correlates of African American children in and out of their families. Families in Society, 91(1), 85–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dalgleish, L. I., & Drew, E. C. (1989). The relationship of child abuse indicators to the assessment of perceived risk and to the court’s decision to separate. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13(4), 491–506.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Damashek, A., & Bonner, B. L. (2010). Factors related to sibling removal after a child maltreatment fatality. Child Abuse and Neglect, 34(8), 563–569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Davidson-Arad, B., Englechin-Segal, D., Wozner, Y., & Arieli, R. (2006). Social workers’ decisions on removal: predictions from their initial perceptions of the child’s features, parents’ features and child’s quality of life. Journal of Social Service Research, 31(4), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. De Kemp, R. A. T., Veerman, J. W., & Brink, L. T. T. (2003). The assessment of imminence of risk of placement: lessons from a families first program in the Netherlands. Children and Youth Services Review, 25(3), 251–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Delfabbro, P. H., Barber, J. G., & Cooper, L. (2002). Children entering out-of-home care in south Australia: baseline analyses for a 3-year longitudinal study. Children and Youth Services Review, 24(12), 917–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. DePanfilis, D., & Scannapieco, M. (1994). Assessing the safety of children at risk of maltreatment: decision-making models. Child Welfare, 73(3), 229–245.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Duncan, B., & Argys, L. (2007). Economic incentives and foster care placement. Southern Economic Journal, 74(1), 114–142.Google Scholar
  27. Ejrnæs, M., Ejrnæs, M., & Frederiksen, S. (2011). Risk factors of entry in out-of-home care: an empirical study of danish birth cohorts, 1981–2003. Child Indicators Research, 4(1), 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Elmund, A., Lindblad, F., Vinnerljung, B., & Hjern, A. (2007). Intercountry adoptees in out-of-home care: a national cohort study. Acta Paediatrica, 96(3), 437–442.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. English, D. J., Edleson, J. L., & Herrick, M. E. (2005). Domestic violence in one state’s child protective caseload: a study of differential case dispositions and outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review, 27(11), 1183–1201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Farmer, E. M. Z., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W. (2008). Use and predictors of out-of-home placements within systems of care. Journal of Emotional and Behavioural Disorders, 16(1), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fluke, J. D., Chabot, M., Fallon, B., MacLaurin, B., & Blackstock, C. (2010). Placement decisions and disparities among aboriginal groups: an application of the decision making ecology through multi-level analysis. Child Abuse and Neglect, 34(1), 57–69.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Franzen, E., Vinnerljung, B., & Hjern, A. (2008). The epidemiology of out-of-home care for children and youth: a national cohort study. British Journal of Social Work, 38(6), 1043–1059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Freisthaler, B., Gruenwald, P. J., Remer, L. G., Lery, B., & Needell, B. (2007). Exploring the spatial dynamics of alcohol outlets and child protective services referrals, substantiations and foster care entries. Child Maltreatment, 12(2), 114–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gilbert, N., Parton, N., & Skivenes, M. (Eds.). (2011). Child Protection Systems: International Trends and Orientations. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Glisson, C., & Green, P. (2006). The role of specialty mental health care in predicting child welfare and juvenile justice out-of-home placements. Research on Social Work Practice, 16(5), 480–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Goerge, R. M., & Lee, B. J. (2005). The Entry of Children from the Welfare System into Foster Care: Differences by Race. In D. M. Derezotes, J. Poertner, & M. F. Testa (Eds.), Race Matters in Child Welfare: The overrepresentation of African American children in the system. (pp. 173–185). Washington: Child Welfare League of America Inc.Google Scholar
  37. Harpaz-Rotem, I., Berkowitz, S., Marans, S., Murphy, R. A., & Rosenheck, R. A. (2008). Out-of-home placement of children exposed to violence. Children and Society, 22(1), 29–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harris, G., Tittle, G., & Poertner, J. (2005). Factors that Predict the Decision to Place a Child in Substitute Care. In D. M. Derezotes, J. Poertner, & M. F. Testa (Eds.), Race Matters in Child Welfare (pp. 163–172). New York: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  39. Hearn, J. L. (2010). Family preservation in families’ ecological systems: Factors that predict out-of-home placement and maltreatment for service recipients in Richmond City. Ph.D. Thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.Google Scholar
  40. Hestbæk, A. D. (1999). Social background and placement course—the case of Denmark. International Journal of Social Welfare, 8(4), 267–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hiilamo, H. (2009). What could explain the dramatic rise in out-of-home placement in Finland in the 1990s and early 2000s? Children and Youth Services Review, 31(2), 177–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hill, R. B. (2005). The Role of Race in Foster Care Placements. In D. M. Derezotes, J. Poertner, & M. F. Testa (Eds.), Race Matters in Child Welfare (pp. 187–200). New York: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  43. Hobbs, G. F., Hobbs, C. J., & Wynne, J. M. (1999). Abuse of children in foster and residential care. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23(12), 1239–1252.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Horowitz, S. M., Hurlburt, M. S., Cohen, S. D., & Zhang, J. (2011). Predictors of placement for children who initially remained in their homes after an investigation for abuse or neglect. Child Abuse and Neglect, 35(3), 188–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Hunter, W. M., Coulter, M. L., Runyan, D. K., & Everson, M. D. (1990). Determinants of placement for sexually abused children. Child Abuse and Neglect, 14(3), 407–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jaudes, P. K., & Morris, M. (1990). Child sexual abuse: who goes home? Child Abuse and Neglect, 14(1), 61–68.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Jones, M. A. (1985). A second chance for families: five years later. New York: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  48. Jones, L. J. (1993). Decision making in child welfare: a critical review of the literature. Child and Adolescent Work, 10(3), 241–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kang, H. A., & Poertner, J. (2006). Inter-rater reliability of the Illinois structured decision support protocol. Child Abuse and Neglect, 30(6), 679–689.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Katz, M. H., Hampton, R. L., Newberger, E. H., Bowles, R. T., & Snyder, J. C. (1986). Returning children home: clinical decision making in cases of child abuse and neglect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 56(2), 253–262.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Knoke, D., Goodman, D., Leslie, B., & Trocmé, N. (2007). (2007) Differences in the factors associated with out-of-home placement for children and youth. Canadian Journal of Social Work, 9(1), 26–46.Google Scholar
  52. Knott, T., & Donovan, K. (2010). Disproportionate representation of African-American children in foster care: secondary analysis of the national child abuse and neglect data system, 2005. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(5), 679–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lau, A., McCabe, K. M., Yeh, M., Garland, A. F., Hough, R. L., & Landsverk, J. A. (2003). Race-ethnicity and rates of self-reported maltreatment among high risk youth in public sectors of care. Child Maltreatment, 8(3), 183–194.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lavergne, C., Damant, D., Clement, M., Bourassa, C., Lessard, G., & Turcotte, P. (2011). Key decisions in child protection services in cases of domestic violence: maintaining services and out-of-home placement. Child and Family Social Work, 16(3), 353–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Leifer, M., Shapiro, J., & Kassem, L. (1993). The impact of maternal history and behaviour upon foster placement and adjustment in sexually abused girls. Child Abuse and Neglect, 17(6), 755–766.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lery, B. (2009). Neighborhood structure and foster care entry risk: the role of spatial scale in defining neighborhoods. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(3), 331–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Leschied, A. W., Chiodo, D., Whitehead, P. C., Hurley, D., & Marshal, L. (2003). The empirical basis of risk assessment in child welfare: the accuracy of risk assessment and clinical judgement. Child Welfare, 82(5), 527–540.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Lightfoot, E., Hill, K., & LaLiberte, T. (2011). Prevalence of children with disabilities in the child welfare system and out-of-home placement: an examination of administrative records. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(11), 2069–2075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Lindsey, D. (1991). Factors affecting the foster care placement decision: an analysis of natural survey data. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62(2), 272–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lindsey, D. (1992a). Reliability of the foster care placement decision: a review. Research on Social Work Practice, 2(1), 65–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lindsey, D. (1992b). Adequacy of income and the foster care placement decision: using an odds ratio approach to examine client variables. Social Work Research and Abstracts, 28(3), 29–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. McDonald, T. P., Poertner, J., & Harris, G. (2001). Predicting placement in foster care: a comparison of logistic regression and neural network analysis. Journal of Social Service Research, 28(2), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Needell, B., & Barth, R. P. (1998). Infants entering foster care compared to other infants using birth status indicators. Child Abuse and Neglect, 22(12), 1179–1187.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Needell, B., Brookhart, M. A., & Lee, S. (2003). Black children and foster care placement in California. Children and Youth Services Review, 25(5–6), 393–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Nelson, K. E. (1990). Family-based services for juvenile offenders. Children and Youth Services Review, 12(3), 193–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nelson, K. E. (1991). Populations and Outcomes in Five Family Preservation Programs. In K. Wells & D. Biegel (Eds.), Family Preservation Services Research and Evaluation (pp. 72–91). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  67. Park, J. M., & Helton, J. (2010). Transitioning from informal to formal substitute care following maltreatment investigation. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(7), 998–1003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Park, J. M., Solomon, P., & Mandell, D. S. (2007). Foster care placement among children who received inpatient psychiatric care. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(7), 933–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pellegrin, A., & Wagner, W. G. (1990). Child sexual abuse: factors affecting victim’s removal from home. Child Abuse and Neglect, 14(1), 53–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Phillips, M. H., Shyne, A. W., Sherman, E. A., & Harding, B. L. (1971). Factors Associated With Placement Decisions in Child Welfare. New York: Child Welfare League of America.Google Scholar
  71. Poertner, J., Bussey, M., & Fluke, J. (1999). How safe are out-of-home placements? Children and Youth Services Review, 21(7), 549–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Quinton, D., & Rutter, M. (1984). Parents with children in care—1. Current Circumstances and Parenting. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 25(4), 211–229.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rapp, C. A. (1982). Effect of the availability of family support services on decisions about child placement. Social Work Research and Abstracts, 18(1), 21–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rhee, S., Chang, J., Weaver, D., & Wong, D. (2008). Child maltreatment among immigrant Chinese families: characteristics and patterns of placement. Child Maltreatment, 13(3), 269–279.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rivaux, S. L., James, J., Wittenstrom, K., Baumann, D., Sheets, J., Henry, J., et al. (2008). The intersection of race poverty and risk: understanding the decision to provide services to clients and to remove children. Child Welfare, 87(2 Special issue), 151–168.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Rosenthal, J. A., Motz, J. K., Edmonson, D. A., & Groze, V. (1991). A descriptive study of abuse and neglect in out-of-home placement. Child Abuse and Neglect, 15(3), 249–260.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rossi, P. H., Schuerman, J., & Budde, S. (1999). Understanding decisions about child maltreatment. Evaluation Review, 23(6), 579–598.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Runyan, D. K., Gould, C. L., Trost, D. C., & Loda, F. A. (1981). Determinants of foster care placement for the maltreated child. American Journal of Public Health, 71(7), 706–711.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schuerman, J., Rossi, P. H., & Budde, S. (1999). Decisions on placement and family preservation. Evaluation Review, 23(6), 599–618.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Thieman, A. A., & Dail, P. W. (1992). Family preservation services: problems of measurement and assessment of risk. Family Relations, 41(2), 186–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Thieman, A. A., & Dail, P. W. (1997). Predictors of out-of-home placement in a family preservation program: are welfare recipients particularly vulnerable? Policy Studies Journal, 25(1), 124–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Tittle, G., Harris, G., & Poertner, J. (2000). Factors that predict the decision to place a child, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Social Work, Child and Family Research Center, Urbana.Google Scholar
  83. Trocmé, N., Knoke, D., & Blackstock, C. (2004). Pathways to the over-representation of aboriginal children in Canada’s child welfare system. Social Service Review, 78(4), 577–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Vinnerljung, B., Franzen, E., Gustafsson, B., & Johansson, I. M. (2008). Out-of-home care among immigrant children in Sweden: a national cohort study. International Journal of Social Welfare, 17(4), 301–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wobie, K., Eyler, F. D., Garvan, C. W., Hou, W., & Behnke, M. (2004). Prenatal cocaine exposure: an examination of out-of-home placement during the first year of life. Journal of Drug Issues, 34(1), 77–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Yuan, Y., & Struckman-Johnson, D. (1991). Placement Outcomes for Neglected Children with Prior Placements in Family Preservation Programs. In K. Wells & D. Biegel (Eds.), Family Preservation Services: Research and Evaluation (pp. 92–118). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  87. Zuravin, S. J., & DePanfilis, D. (1997). Factors affecting foster care placement of children receiving child protective services. Social Work Research, 21(1), 34–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Zuravin, S. J., & DePanfilis, D. (1999). Predictors of Child Protection Service Intake Decisions: Case Closure, Referral to Continuing Services, or Foster Care Placement. In P. A. Curtis, G. Dale, & J. C. Kendall (Eds.), The Foster Care Crisis: Translating Research into Policy and Practice (pp. 63–83). Stuart: The Nebraska Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Childhood, Social Work and Social CareUniversity of ChichesterChichesterUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.The ICMA CentreUniversity of ReadingEnglandUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations