Post-permanency discontinuity: A longitudinal examination of outcomes for foster youth after adoption or guardianship

Date Published

Rolock, N., & White, K. (2016). Post-permanency discontinuity: A longitudinal examination of outcomes for foster youth after adoption or guardianship. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 419-427.

Reviewed by
Tara Black
Nicolette Joh-Carnella

According to the National Child Welfare Indicator Outcomes Matrix (NOM), permanency status should be tracked forward from a child’s initial placement for up to 36 months, at which point permanence is not considered to have been achieved (Trocmé, et al., 2009). Research surrounding long-term outcomes for children and families post-permanency (e.g., adoption or guardianship) is scarce. The current study looked at post-permanency discontinuity of all children in Illinois younger than 17 years that were adopted or taken into legal guardianship between 1998 and 2010 (N = 51,576). In this study, discontinuity was used to refer to children who either re-entered foster care after achieving legal permanence or adoption, or children whose adoption or guardianship subsidy was terminated before the child aged out of care.

Understanding child characteristics that lead to discontinuity can ultimately better streamline prevention and intervention efforts. Researchers analyzed several child characteristics in an attempt to find correlations in post-permanency discontinuity. Only a minority of children (13%) experience post-permanency discontinuity. African-American children were found to experience discontinuity more than children of other racial groups, and children who had more moves in foster care were found to experience more discontinuity. Children who were in foster care for three or more years were found to be less likely to experience discontinuity than those who spent less than three years in foster care. Children adopted as infants had smaller proportions of discontinuity than those adopted between the ages of three and thirteen. The average age at discontinuity was found to be 13.2 years, and discontinuity was found to increase as children became teenagers. When children were placed with one or more siblings at the time of legal permanency, they were found to be less likely to experience discontinuity.

Methodological notes

The researchers collected their data using the Illinois Integrated Database (IDB), which links child records across the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (IDCFS). The authors note that use of administrative data as both a strength and a limitation of the study, as it restricted the variables they could examine to those that were available. Additionally, access to information regarding post-finalization experiences was limited, and the researchers relied on assumptions and proxies in order to study some variables. The researchers also note that there was no measure of the quality of the relationship between the youth and their adoptive parents or guardians. Finally, the operational definition of discontinuity is imperfect. The authors define discontinuity as either the re-entry into foster care or the termination of the adoption or guardianship subsidy payment. However, they explore different reasons subsidy payment can terminate (e.g. child is place with relative, child is returned to care of biological parent, caregiver no longer caring for child, etc.) and cite the inability to distinguish between these variations as a limitation of the study. 


Trocmé, N., MacLaurin, B., Fallon, B., Shlonsky, A., Mulcahy, M., & Esposito,T. (2009). National Child Welfare Outcomes Indicator Matrix (NOM). Montreal, QC: McGill University: Centre for Research on Children and Families. Retrieved January 19, 2017 from