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May 2014Vol. 15, No. 5Intensive Family Preservation Services Turns 40

Before the mid-70s, the term "family preservation" did not exist in child welfare. Interventions designed to keep children safely at home and out of foster care were not at the core of child welfare practice as they are today. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS)—a term often used to refer to programs based on the HOMEBUILDERS® model, which was established in Washington State in 1974. HOMEBUILDERS® and IFPS work to reduce the number of children entering out-of-home care by strengthening and preserving families.

Charlotte Booth, Executive Director of the Institute for Family Development, notes that IFPS began in response to a growing national concern about the number of children being removed from their homes.

"Child protective services didn't exist until the 1960s, and then States started building systems to place children into safe homes when necessary. Because those systems grew so rapidly, the number of children removed [from home] grew dramatically, too," she said.

In the 1970s, talk within the field turned to whether sending therapists into homes to work with families could improve outcomes and keep families together. While this outreach approach was being used in the field of mental health, it was new to child welfare.

"It was such a systems shift. Everything was deficit-based then instead of strengths-based. The entire field wasn't going to change because a couple programs had good results," Booth said. That's when the Washington IFPS group settled on the HOMEBUILDERS® program—intensive, in-home intervention for families with children at imminent risk of entering foster care. IFPS developed materials to help train others on the model, and the Washington State legislature expanded it statewide; however, replication and fidelity issues arose.

"When that happened, we worked to build capacity, and a decision was made to trademark the program so that States and agencies using the model stayed true to its components to ensure fidelity and sustainability," said Booth.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and later the Annie E. Casey Foundation, enlisted key players in child welfare to spur this systems change nationwide. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 created a framework for child welfare and required that "reasonable efforts" be employed to maintain children safely in their homes. Family preservation took root in the 1980s; now, Booth says, "Even if your State doesn't have IFPS, everyone knows what family preservation means. The initial thought in child welfare cases now is, 'Of course we do our best to keep the family together when it is safe to do so.' That is a tremendous change." 

The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was created in 1992 to serve as the national voice for intensive family preservation.

"We were established as a clearinghouse," said Priscilla Martens, Executive Director of NFPN. "We provide resources, training and technical assistance, and research on family preservation, reunification, and father engagement. The HOMEBUILDERS® model and IFPS have tremendously affected child- and family-serving systems, and NFPN has promoted the extension of IFPS from what was originally intended to serve intact families to also focus on reuniting families."

When asked what she's most proud of over the past 40 years, Booth said there was much to tout, "The history and stories related to the incredible systems reform initiative in child welfare are astonishing. So much was done, from agency and judicial training, to 13 States passing legislation calling for IFPS, to reshaping how the public views families involved with child welfare."

What's next for IFPS and NFPN? Martens said work is currently underway to create a repository of IFPS history and make related materials and information easily accessible to the public to preserve it for future generations.

"It's deeply important that the HOMEBUILDERS® model and IFPS stay in place," Booth said. "We really do want to make sure that the philosophy of change endures and continues to demonstrate that this approach works and is better for children and their families."

The repository has begun in the form of the IFPS Coast to Coast Blog

More information on the Institute for Family Development is available on its website:

The National Family Preservation Network website is available here:

Special thanks to Charlotte Booth, Executive Director of the Institute for Family Development, and Priscilla Martens, Executive Director of the National Family Preservation Network, for providing information for this article.