Foster Care, Permanency, and Risk of Prison Entry

Sarah Font, Lawrence M. Berger, Jessie Slepicka, Maria Cancian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: (1) Examine associations of foster care exit type (e.g., reunification with birth family, adoption, guardianship/permanent relative placement, or emancipation from care) with risk of entry into state prison; (2) Examine racial disparities in those associations. Method: With data on over 10,000 Wisconsin youth who entered foster care in mid- to late-childhood, we present imprisonment rates in young adulthood by race, sex, and foster care exit type. Proportional hazards models with a robust set of covariates compared prison entry rates among the most common exit types—reunification, aging out, and guardianship/permanent relative placement. Results: Nearly 13 percent of the sample experienced imprisonment in young adulthood. Compared with emancipated youth, hazard of imprisonment was 1.58–1.96 times higher among reunified youth. Differences were largely unexplained by observed individual, family, or foster care characteristics. Imprisonment rates were similar for emancipated youth and youth exiting to guardianship/permanent relative placement. Hazard of imprisonment for reunified Black youth was twice that of reunified white youth, but racial differences in prison entry were statistically non-significant among emancipated youth. Conclusion: Efforts to reduce incarceration risk for all youth in foster care are needed. Reunified youth may benefit from services and supports currently provided primarily to emancipated youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)710-754
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Foster Care, Permanency, and Risk of Prison Entry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this