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Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Overview

Conducted from 1994 through 2002, the Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs was intended to evaluate rigorously programs designed to prevent the placement of children in foster care when it can be avoided. A related effort to reunify families who had at least one child placed in foster care was also evaluated, and related issue papers on family preservation, fiscal reform, and cost estimation were produced. The evaluation was originally undertaken as directed by Congress in the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which created the Family Support and Family Preservation Program, since renamed the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. Westat, Chapin Hall Center for Children, and James Bell Associates conducted the evaluation and wrote the reports.

The following reports are available from this evaluation:

  • Final Report of the Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs (December 2002) The Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs, conducted between 1994 and 2002, studied four local programs providing services intended to improve family functioning and reduce unnecessary foster care placements. This traditional, experimental-design evaluation examined outcomes of sites that each used the popular HomeBuilders service model which provides intensive services to families over a period of approximately 6 weeks. The report discusses family outcomes approximately one year after program entry. Key findings include: (1) families served experienced a range of problems; (2) participating families received a wider and deeper array of services; (3) foster care placement was not reduced; (4) child safety was maintained; (5) family functioning did not generally improve; (6) all subgroups experienced similar outcomes; (7) families thought their lives had improved.
  • Estimating Child Welfare Service Costs: Methods Developed for the Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs (June 2002) The Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs studied four local programs providing services intended to improve family functioning and reduce unnecessary foster care placements. A cost study was originally planned, but when the evaluation found no significant differences between treatment and control groups on outcome measures of interest, the studys advisory group recommended that the cost study not be implemented. However, it was thought that the field could benefit from a report on how a cost study in child welfare services could be conducted. This document thus presents a methodology for conducting a cost study of family preservation services based on the lessons learned from the four study sites for which plans were developed. While the methodology is designed for this specific evaluation, it can be adapted for other research studies requiring cost analyses or for ongoing budgetary and cost analysis efforts in child welfare programs. The goals of this report are to provide a description of what may be encountered in the child welfare cost data environment and to develop a methodology that includes a comprehensive framework for developing and obtaining service units and unit costs in order to assess the cost of the services to families involved in the child welfare system.
  • State Innovations in Child Welfare Financing (April 2002) This report describes how states are implementing fiscal reforms to contain costs or improve the performance of their child welfare systems, 23 initiatives in 22 states are described. The report also identifies issues that the implementation of fiscal reforms face and describes how well fiscal reforms appear to be working. Many of these reforms are based on the managed care model used in medicine for the past 30 years, while other reforms use approaches such as the privatization of services, performance contracting, and integrated funding. The report concludes by identifying several challenges faced by fiscal reform initiatives that must be solved if they are to be implemented widely.
  • Interim Report of the Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs (January 2001). This report focuses on programs in three states, using a particular approach to family preservation, Homebuilders, thought by many to be the most promising approach. The evaluation design was an experiment in which families were randomly assigned to either a Homebuilders family preservation program (the experimental group) or to other, regular, services of the child welfare system (the control group). The report concerns programs in Louisville, Kentucky; seven counties in New Jersey; and Memphis, Tennessee. Information was collected through interviews with caseworkers and caretakers to examine caretakers parenting practices, interaction with the children, discipline, social networks, economic functioning, housing, abuse and neglect, psychological functioning, child well-being, and caseworker/caretaker interactions.
  • Evaluation of the New York City Home Rebuilders Demonstration (1998) The HomeRebuilders project was an ambitious effort to test a major reform of the foster care system in New York City. In 1993, the NY State Department of Social Services and the NY City Child Welfare Administration began testing a new approach to financing services to foster children and their birth families based on concepts from managed care. Since paying for each day a child is in foster care (per diem payment) is a disincentive to return children home, the demonstration tested an alternative method of agency reimbursement. Instead of paying for each day in care, agencies were paid a flat amount of money or capitation payments for an identified group of children in foster care. The funds were to be used to serve the children for 3 years. Funding was front loaded in the first year to encourage early discharge.
  • A Synthesis of Research on Family Preservation and Family Reunification Programs (1995) This paper reviews research on programs aimed at preventing out-of-home placement of children, broader family preservation programs, and programs designed to reunify families with children in foster care. It examines what is known about the outcomes of these programs, relationships between service characteristics and outcomes, and the response of subgroup clients to services.

Related studies of program implementation and the family support component of the program are available from other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These include: