"Foster Care: A Dynamic Matching Approach"

Abstract. This paper studies the two-sided, dynamic matching problem that occurs in the US foster care system. In this market, foster parents and foster children can form reversible foster matches, which may disrupt, continue in a reversible state, or transition into permanency via adoption. I first present an empirical analysis that yields four new stylized facts related to match transitions of children in foster care and their exit through adoption. Thereafter, I develop a two-sided dynamic matching model with five key features: (a) children are heterogeneous (with and without a disability), (b) children must be foster matched before being adopted, (c) children search for parents while foster matched to another parent, (d) parents receive a smaller per-period payoff when adopting than fostering (capturing the presence of a financial penalty on adoption), and (e) matches differ in their quality. I use the model to derive conditions for the stylized facts to arise in equilibrium and carry out predictions regarding match quality. An interesting insight is that the intrinsic disadvantage (being less preferred by foster parents) faced by children with a disability exacerbates due to the penalty. Moreover, I show that foster parents in high-quality matches (relative to foster parents in low-quality matches) might have fewer incentives to adopt.