Children returning from care: The challenging circumstances of parents in poverty

Elizabeth Fernandez, Paul Delfabbro, Ioana Ramia and Szilvia Kovacs - Children and Youth Services Review


Children who enter care are frequently from families who are disadvantaged economically, socially and emotionally. Such disadvantage often co-exists with other risk factors including a history of abuse as well as socio-cultural differences such as being from minority of an Indigenous background where there can be additional issues such as social marginalisation or prejudice. Care systems can often compound these problems by exposing children to further loss and disruption or unstable placements, and often struggle in returning children home to parents experiencing a high burden of disadvantage and significant poverty. In this paper, we report the findings of an Australian study that examined longitudinal data on reasons for entry to care, trajectories in care and patterns of reunification and associated factors. Case-file reviews and placement tracking analyses were conducted for 502 children to identify predictors of reunification. Analytical techniques included cluster analysis, survival and proportional hazards models to examine the reunification trajectories of different groups of children and families. Most reunifications were found to occur within 12 months. Poverty in the form of financial problems and homelessness emerged as predictors of a lower probability of reunification status along with Indigenous status and family structure. The implications of these findings are discussed in terms of policies and practices that could influence the child, family and environmental characteristics associated with entry to care and reunification.