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Seminar Series: Is There a Foster Care-to-Prison Pipeline? Evidence from Quasi-Randomly Assigned Investigators

September 21, 2022 — 12:30 pm to 1:45 pm


Jason Baron is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Duke University. His research focuses on topics in child welfare, the economics of education, and the economics of crime.

Foster care placement is strongly associated with crime—for example, close to one fifth of the prison population in the United States is comprised of former foster children—yet there is little evidence on whether this relationship is causal. Leveraging the quasi-random assignment of child welfare investigators and administrative data from Michigan, we show that foster care placement substantially reduced the chances of adult arrests, convictions, and incarceration for children at the margin. Exploring mechanisms, we find evidence that children’s birth parents made positive changes following placement. We show that most children in our setting reunified with their parents after a short stay in foster care and that parents themselves were less likely to have criminal justice contact after placement. In light of recent historic federal policy which prioritizes keeping children with their families, our analysis indicates that safely reducing foster care caseloads will require improving efforts to ensure child wellbeing in the home.

The La Follette School Seminar Series engages participants in discussion of a range of public policy issues and showcases the research of faculty from the La Follette School, other UW–Madison departments, and outside the UW–Madison community. Faculty, students, and visitors take part in lively dialogue about topics such as poverty and welfare, health, education, international affairs, trade and finance, and the environment. For more information, email Professor Tim Smeeding.


September 21, 2022
12:30 pm to 1:45 pm
Event Category:


La Follette School of Public Affairs
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Sterling Hall, conference room 1328
475 N Charter St
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
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