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Removing children from their families is a serious, and often traumatic, experience for children and youth, even if this process is a voluntary choice of the parents or caregivers. This exploratory study aimed to further the understanding of voluntary foster care placements, a topic on which there has been very little research and attention. For this content analysis, we analyzed the statutes of all 50 states and Washington D.C. We developed a coding rubric to record data on each statute, including factors such as definitions, timelines, and process for court involvement. Researcher memos were used to help identify themes across statutes, as well as unique cases. Findings suggest a wide degree of variation in how states regulate voluntary placement in foster care, with 11 states having no statutes at all, and states varying even on fundamental aspects of these placements such as parents maintaining legal custody and authority of their children. Several state's statutes mention voluntary placements but provide no guidance at all on implementation, other states' statutes provide a detailed description on processes including special considerations regarding access to treatment for children with disabilities. The lack of clarity in statutes on voluntary placements needs further attention by child welfare administrators and policy-makers, in order to ensure the on-going safety, permanency, and well-being of children in these voluntary arrangements.
Children and Youth Services Review