Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School


Public Policy and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Edward T. Jennings, Jr.


On any given day almost 400,000 children in the United States are living in an out-of-home care placement due to government intervention. Federal law allows for substantial variance in state child welfare policy on a number of topics. These policy decisions, however, are understudied both in terms of the forces driving them and also the impacts the policies have on actual outcomes for children in care.

Utilizing a unique panel data set comprised of thirteen child welfare policies that vary both between states and over time we examine how well redistributive theory (constituent, institutional, paternalistic and resource pressures) explains state policy decisions from 2004-2010. The results provide very little confidence that redistributive pressures are driving state variance, though there are some noteworthy patterns. Within the four categories of explanatory variables, it would seem that child welfare policies are much more sensitive to changes in the social factors associated with a paternalistic response (unmarried birth rate and program utilization) and resource pressures than to constituent or institutional characteristics.

Subsequently, a series of hazard models were conducted for each possible discharge outcome, using child level data from the 2010 AFCARS foster care dataset, with primary interest in the influence of policy and state level factors. Policy-level predictors primarily had negative impacts on discharge outcomes for children. Exceptions include better outcomes for children in states with higher generosity of access, increased rates of adoption and aging out with higher ASFA timeline compliance, and more discharges to reunification and adoption with more flexible adoption policy. State level factors consistently showed strong influences on child outcomes. While increased unemployment was associated with worse child outcomes, all other state level factors considered were associated with positive discharge outcomes for children in out-of-home care.

This research broadens the theoretical application of redistributive theory to a new policy arena and adds an additional layer of state level explanatory variables to the much-studied outcomes for children in out-of-home care. It establishes that children and families do not exist in a vacuum and that child welfare research must take broader state and policy factors into account for a complete picture.