How short-term placements affect placement trajectories: A propensity-weighted analysis of re-entry into care

Sophie T. Hébert, Tonino Esposito, Sonia Hélie - Children and Youth Services Review


Short-term placements outside the family home are one of the strategies that child protection services use to ensure the safety of vulnerable children. While several studies that have specifically examined short-term placements report that the majority of children placed will experience at least one short-term placement prior to family reunification, the effect of these placements on the stability of the reunification is less clear. In the present study, we examined the effects of two types of initial short-term placements: emergency placements (lasting 1 to 5 days) and provisional placements (lasting 6 to 60 days) on the risks of re-entry into care in the four years following reunification. This analysis draws clinical administrative data from all of Quebec's child protection agencies for a total of 5755 reunified children. Applying a method of quasi-randomization using propensity weights that control for individual factors that may predispose a child to have a short-term placement prior to reunification. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to examine the risk of re-entry into care. Our propensity weighted results showed that children whose first placement last 6 to 60 days had a higher risk of re-entering into care during the first year after family reunification than children whose first placement was longer. Children whose first placement lasted 1 to 5 days had the highest risk of re-entry within the first three years of reunification. The fourth year after family reunification, however, short-term placement was no longer a significant risk of re-entering into care. This study provides additional insight to support reconsidering the duration of short-term placements that may be too short to ensure a child's stable return to the family home.