Do Specialty Courts Achieve Better Outcomes for Children in Foster Care Than General Courts?
This study assessed the effects of unified family and drug treatment courts (DTCs) on the resolution of cases involving foster care children and the resulting effects on school performance.
The first analytic step was to assess the impacts of presence of unified and DTCs in North Carolina counties on time children spent in foster care and the type of placement at exit from foster care. In the second step, the same data on foster care placements were merged with school records for youth in Grades 3-8 in public schools. The effect of children's time in foster care and placement outcomes on school performance as measured by math and reading tests, grade retention, and attendance was assessed using child fixed-effects regression.
Children in counties with unified family courts experienced shorter foster care spells and higher rates of reunification with parents or primary caregivers. Shorter foster care spells translated into improved school performance measured by end-of-grade reading and math test scores. Adult DTCs were associated with lower probability of reunification with parents/primary caregivers.
The shortened time in foster care implies an efficiency gain attributable to unified family courts, which translate into savings for the court system through the use of fewer resources. Children also benefit through shortened stays in temporary placements, which are related to some improved educational outcomes.