We evaluated whether living arrangements of children with or without prenatal drug exposure would be associated with their behavior outcomes and adaptive functioning.
A total of 1388 children with or without prenatal cocaine or opiate exposure were enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study at 1 month of age, were seen at intervals, tracked over time for their living situation, and evaluated for behavior problems and adaptive functioning at 3 years of age. The Child Behavior Checklist and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales were administered. Using multiple regression models, we determined the factors that would predict behavior problems and adaptive functioning.
Of the children enrolled, 1092 children were evaluated. Total and externalizing behavior problems T scores of children in relative care were lower (better) than those in parental care; externalizing behavior scores were lower than those in nonrelative care (p < .05). Total behavior problem scores increased 2.3 and 1.3 points, respectively, with each move per year and each year of Child Protective Services involvement. Compared to children in nonrelative care, those in parental or relative care had higher (better) scores in the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales total composite (p < .023), communication (p < .045), and daily living (p < .001). Each caretaker change was associated with a decrease of 2.65 and 2.19 points, respectively, in communication and daily living scores.
Children's living arrangements were significantly associated with childhood behavior problems and adaptive functioning. The instability of living situation was also a significant predictor of these outcomes. While family preservation continues to be the goal of the child welfare system, expediting decision toward permanency remains paramount once children are placed in foster care.