Child Protection and Adult Crime: Using Investigator Assignment to Estimate Causal Effects of Foster Care
Nearly 20% of young prison inmates spent part of their youth in foster care - the placement of abused or neglected children with substitute families. Little is known whether foster care placement reduces or increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. This paper uses the placement frequency of child protection investigators as an instrument to identify causal effects of foster care placement on adult arrest, conviction, and imprisonment rates. A unique dataset that links child abuse investigation data to criminal justice data in Illinois allows a comparison of adult crime outcomes across individuals who were investigated for abuse or neglect as children. Families are effectively randomized to child protection investigators through a rotational assignment process, and child characteristics are similar across investigators. Nevertheless, investigator placement frequencies are predictive of subsequent foster care placement, and the results suggest that school-aged children who are on the margin of placement have lower adult arrest rates when they remain at home.
Special thanks to Robert Moffitt, Mark Duggan, Steve Levitt, Michael Greenstone, Jon Gruber, Jim Poterba, Josh Angrist, Phil Oreopolous, Tom Stoker, Roberto Rigobon, Tavneet Suri, Robert Goerge and Lucy Mackey-Bilaver for comments and advice on this research program. I would like to acknowledge the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago for the creation of the Integrated Database on Child and Family Programs in Illinois that was used in this study. All findings, interpretations and conclusions based on the use of the IDB are solely my responsibility and do not necessarily represent the views of the Chapin Hall Center for Children. I would also like to acknowledge the generous support of the National Science Foundation under grant SES-0518757. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.