Medical complexity and placement outcomes for children in foster care

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective Medical complexity threatens placement stability and permanency outcomes for children in foster care (FC). This study aimed to characterize for US children in FC: 1) medical complexity, using number of diagnosed types of disability as a proxy; 2) demographic and removal characteristics based on level of complexity; and 3) whether increasing levels of complexity were associated with foster care placement outcomes. Methods The analysis included children in FC, ages 0–21 whose disability status was clinically assessed and documented (n = 538,695). Using data from the FY 2014 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, medical complexity was categorized (0–4 +) based on 5 disability types: emotional, hearing/vision, intellectual, physical, and other. Bivariate analyses (χ2 tests, Kruskall-Wallis) compared the distribution of demographic and removal characteristics among complexity groups. Multiple logistic regression evaluated relationships between medical complexity and placement outcomes, including length of stay in FC, placement stability, and permanency. Results Twenty-three percent of the sample had 1 disability type, 7% had 2, 3% had 3, 1% had 4 +, and 67% had no disability. Children with increasing complexity were more likely to be older, older on FC entry, male, Black, non-Hispanic, placed in a group home or institution, have abuse, neglect, and/or child disability/behavior as reason for removal, and have poor placement outcomes. Conclusion Children in FC with greater medical complexity are at risk for undesirable placement outcomes. By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of this vulnerable population, pediatric providers and child welfare staff may identify strategies to improve placement outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-293
Number of pages9
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Disability
  • Foster care
  • Medical complexity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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