• May/June 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 3

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Study Sheds Light on Family Preservation Programs

Initial findings from a three-State study suggest that policy makers and practitioners might want to rethink—but not abandon—efforts at family preservation programs.

An interim report on the study, published in January, focused on implementation of Homebuilders, a short-term, service-intensive strategy for intervening in families facing the possible removal of a child because of maltreatment. The study focused on Homebuilder programs in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The program was evaluated for performance on three key goals: reducing foster care placement, maintaining the safety of children, and improving family functioning. The design for the evaluation was an experiment in which families were randomly assigned to either a Homebuilders program (the experimental group) or to other, “regular” services of the child welfare system (the control group).

Little statistical difference was found between the control and experimental groups in terms of reducing foster care placement and maintaining child safety. Experimental groups displayed better outcomes on a few items measuring family functioning in at least one State, but the differences were not consistent across States and were not maintained over time.

The authors note that the findings are consistent with previous evaluations of family preservation programs, which also have not found evidence that family preservation efforts prevent foster care placement or significantly improve family or child functioning.

But, they caution, the findings should not be considered evidence that such programs lack value. Instead, the findings underscore the complexity of finding effective ways to work with families in the child welfare system.

“The accumulation of findings suggests that the functions, target group, and characteristics of services in programs such as this need to be rethought,” the report states. Families troubled by chronic problems “need a range of service lengths and service intensities to meet the needs of child welfare clients. It is essential that policy makers, planners, and program providers maintain realistic expectations of the effects of short-term family preservation programs.”

The interim report, Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs, was prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and the Administration for Children and Families.

A final report on the family preservation aspects of this project is forthcoming and will include further analysis and additional data on a fourth site, Philadelphia.

A copy of the January 2001 Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs Interim Report, as well as additional reports on family preservation services, is available online at: http://aspe.os.dhhs.gov/hsp/hspyoung.htm

To order the executive summary or full report, contact:

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Division of Children and Youth Policy
200 Independence Ave., SW
Room 450-G
Washington, DC 20201
Fax: 202-690-5514

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