*Names in bold indicate Presenter
To answer the first question, we examined four county-level “efficiency” variables from Washington State: (1) percentage of cases that reunify within 12 months, (2) percentage of children who exit care in less than 24 months, (3) percentage of children in care more than 24 months who exit within the year, and (4) percentage of children in care less than 12 months who have less than 2 placements. A series of linear regression models estimated whether judicial workloads predicted the efficiency variables. Judicial workloads were a significant predictor of reunification within 12 months. Courts with lower judicial workloads had a higher percentage of cases achieving reunification within 12 months than courts with greater judicial workloads. Judicial workloads did not have any apparent effect on any of the other efficiency variables.
To assess whether timely outcomes are related to safe and permanent outcomes, the four “efficiency” measures were used as predictors to examine “effectiveness” (i.e., percentage of cases that re-enter foster care within 12 months of permanency). A second series of regression models showed that reunification within 12 months was a significant negative predictor of re-entry. Counties with higher rates of reunification within 12 months also had fewer re-entries within 12 months of case closure. When reunifications were more likely to occur in shorter time periods, re-entries were less likely—implying that more efficient jurisdictions were more effective. None of the other efficiency variables (i.e., percentage of children who exit care in less than 24 months, percentage of children in care more than 24 months who exit within the year, percentage of children in care less than 12 months who have less than 2 placements) significantly predicted re-entry.
Decreasing judicial workloads is a crucial component to helping children reunify with their parents and experience more safe and stable reunifications. Courts considering whether to increase their number of judicial officers should take these findings as an indicator of the benefits of increasing judicial personnel. This empirical analysis suggests that by increasing their number of judicial officers, courts can decrease judicial workloads, increase timely reunifications, and reduce re-entry into care.