Date of Award

8-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Economics

First Advisor

Dr. Tim Sass

Second Advisor

Dr. Kevin Fortner

Third Advisor

Dr. Carlianne Patrick

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Smith

Abstract

Millions of children in the United States come into contact with Child Protective Services each year and hundreds of thousands enter foster care. This dissertation uses economics, statistical methods, and national administrative and survey data to identify and address issues related to child maltreatment and evaluate potential solutions, such as extended foster care and mandatory reporting laws.

Chapter 1 estimates the effect of extending foster care support and services from 18 to 21 years old on the transition to adulthood for youth that have grown up in foster care. Over 20,000 youth age-out of foster care each year and lose access to housing, social, and financial support. Subsequently, these youth face various hardships, such as homelessness, incarceration, low educational attainment, and unemployment. In response, over the past decade, states have implemented extended foster care, a program that provides access to housing, social, and financial support beyond 18 years old. I exploit the staggered roll-out of extended foster care to provide some of the earliest nationwide evidence of the causal effects of this program on the transition to adulthood. I find that extended foster care effectively reduces hardships and is cost effective.

Chapter 2 evaluates how state legislation related to mandatory reporters impacts child maltreatment reporting. Child maltreatment is believed to be underreported, so mandatory reporting legislation may be a feasible and effective way for policymakers to approach the true level of maltreatment. The list of mandatory reporters varies by state and over time. I create a state panel of mandatory reporter job classifications, child maltreatment referrals and reports, and case dispositions from 2004 to 2017. Exploiting legislation changes, I find that increasing the number of jobs classified as mandatory reporters increases reporting by 4 percent. However, this increase is driven by unsubstantiated reports.

Finally, chapter 3 documents the drastic decline in reporting during the pandemic in Colorado as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pandemic-induced school closures, and stay-at-home order. This chapter estimates two counterfactuals to quantify the number of maltreatment victims that may have been missed during 2020, so that state agencies can allocate resources appropriately.

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