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May 2009Vol. 10, No. 4Building Evidence on Family Preservation Programs

A recent report by Casey Family Programs focuses on the last decade of research with Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) programs. A Ten-Year Review of Family Preservation Research: Building the Evidence Base defines the characteristics of IFPS programs, reviews three decades of research on IFPS, and then focuses on the last 10 years by reviewing the challenges and the findings.

IFPS refers to programs that provide services to families in order to prevent the removal of children from the home. To meet the definition of IFPS, the programs should include such features as immediate response to referrals, family access to the caseworker around the clock, 12 to 15 hours per week of services in the home, time-limited services (usually 90 days), and low caseloads for workers. The goal is to strengthen the capacity of families to function so that children can remain safely in the home.

Research from the 1980s and 1990s showed mixed results for IFPS programs, although there was evidence that programs modeled closely on the Homebuilders® model showed greater success. In reviewing the last decade of research on IFPS programs, the Casey report notes three major challenges in determining effectiveness:

  • Targeting the correct families (that is, families with children at imminent risk of removal)
  • Implementing the IFPS model with strict adherence to all the components
  • Determining appropriate outcome measures without relying on out-of-home placement as the sole measure

The Casey report identified five studies from the last decade that attempted to meet criteria for targeting, model fidelity, and outcome measures. These studies show some promising results for the families who received IFPS, and most with medium-to-high effect sizes showed fidelity to the Homebuilders® model. One study found that families who had been randomly assigned to receive IFPS were significantly less likely to have children in foster care 12 months later than families who did not receive IFPS.

The report's authors suggest that the more recent studies indicate that IFPS programs offer children the chance to remain in their homes without being at disproportionate risk of maltreatment. They also demonstrate the replicability of the IFPS model and the need to control for risk factors. An appendix to the report offers ways of improving IFPS evaluation methods, including the use of economic analyses.

A Ten-Year Review of Family Preservation Research: Building the Evidence Base, by Kristine Nelson, Barbara Walters, Don Schweitzer, Betty J. Blythe, and Peter J. Pecora, is available on the Casey Family Programs website: