Evaluation of a foster parent training program found positive effects on children’s placement changes

Date Published: 

Price, J. M., Chamberlain, P., Landsverck, J., Reid, J. B., Leve, L. D., & Laurent, H. (2008). Effects of a foster parent training intervention on placement changes of children in foster care. Child Maltreatment, 13(1), 64-75.

Reviewed by: 
Sydney Duder

This was an evaluation of a foster parent training intervention (KEEP) designed to mitigate the effects of placement disruption risks associated with children’s placement histories. The sample comprised 700 foster families (34% kinship, 66% non-relative) who received a new placement of a child aged 5-12 years in San Diego County between 1999 and 2004, and who agreed to participate in the study. “Medically fragile” children were excluded. Families were randomized to either intervention or control (usual child welfare services) groups.

Intervention groups (3-10 foster parents) received 16 weeks of training, supervision and support in behavior management methods from trained facilitators and co-facilitators. Focus was on the use of positive reinforcement and non-harsh discipline; methods included role plays and videotaped recordings. Home practice assignments were given that related to the topics covered during sessions.

Measures included: (1) possible predictor variables (group status, number of prior placements recorded in case files), (2) control variables, recorded at the baseline parent interview (kinship status, child age and gender, language and number of days in placement at baseline), and (3) the dependent variable, placement status outcome, reported by the foster parent at the termination assessment; categories were positive (home or adoption), negative (move to a more restrictive environment), or no change.

The training program was found to significantly increase the chances of positive exits from current foster placements, and to mitigate the risk-enhancing effect of a history of multiple prior placements. The authors suggested that this program could prove to be a cost-effective strategy for managing child behavior problems and reducing placement disruptions.

Methodological notes: 

This appears to have been an exceptionally well-conducted study. The program, described in detail, was well-designed and implemented in a meticulous manner. The facilitators and co-facilitators were paraprofessionals; they were chosen for interpersonal skills, motivation and knowledge of children, trained in a 5-day session, and supervised weekly, using videotapes of sessions. Strategies to maintain foster parent involvement included refreshments, travelling expenses and provision of child care. Parent attendance rates were high—81% of the group completed at least 80% of the sessions; if a foster parent missed a session, the material was delivered during a home visit.

Evaluation methods were also rigorous. The sample was carefully chosen and ethnically diverse—the only significant difference between the randomized groups was a higher proportion of Spanish speaking children in the intervention group, and language was not found to be related to placement outcome. The multivariate data analysis involved the use of a series of Cox hazard models. There was, however, one limitation; the study period was relatively short. The termination interview took place approximately 6 ½ months after the baseline assessment—earlier if the child had a placement change before that point (M = 5 months). Thus it was not possible to determine the long-term effects of the intervention.