Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs:

Chapter 4:
New Jersey

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Contents

4.1 Introduction

The New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is a state administered child welfare system with four regions, 21 counties, and a total of 35 field offices. There is a statewide family preservation program which during the study time frames was using the Homebuilders model,(1) with the service provided by contract with not-for-profit agencies in each county. A state office coordinator is responsible for developing uniform selection criteria, training, contracting procedures, and oversight of the contracts for family preservation service (FPS). While all FPS workers are trained using a consistent program model, the county DYFS offices maintain some autonomy in determining how the program is used. Family preservation was originally funded in New Jersey to serve adolescents and prevent placement in residential care. A shift in state policy to change the emphasis to serving families with younger children was made just prior to the implementation of the evaluation.

The sources of material for this section are reports and documents produced by the state and interviews with personnel at DYFS and FPS programs. The comments from staff offer insight into individual practice in the counties or offices in which they work. This helps provide an understanding of the context in which services are provided. However, these observations only reflect the perceptions of the individuals we interviewed.

A summary of how New Jersey compares to national child indicators is reflected in Table 4-1. Data has been abstracted from the Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. New Jersey has 16 percent of children covered by Medicaid or other public-sector health insurance compared to 25 percent of all children in the nation. With respect to most indicators, New Jersey's children and families are similar to the national average. As described in Section 3.2, the Casey Foundation has developed a family risk index. Using the Casey risk calculation, in New Jersey, 11 percent of the children are consider at risk as compared to 14 percent of children in the nation.

Table 4-1.
Indicators of child health, education and welfare in New Jersey as compared to nation
  New Jersey Nation
Percent low birth weight babies 7.7% 7.4%
Infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 live births) 6.9 7.3
Percent of 2 year olds immunized (1994) 78.0% 78.0%
Percent of children without health insurance 14.0% 14.0%
Percent of children covered by Medicaid or other public-sector health insurance (1996) 16.0% 25.0%
Child death rate (deaths per 100,000 ages 1-14) (1996) 22 26
Teen violent death rates (deaths per 100,000 ages 15-19) 36 62
Teen birth rate (Birth per 1,000 15-17 females) 37 34
Percent teens who are high school dropouts 6.0% 10.0%
Percent of 4th grade student scoring below basic reading level (1998) N/A 39.0%
Percent of 8th grade students scoring below basic math reading level (1998) N/A 28.0%
Median income of families with children in 1996 $54,200 $39,700
Percent of children in poverty in 1996 14% 20%
Percent of children in extreme poverty 7% 9%
Percent of children living with parents who do not have full time year-round employment 26% 30%
Percent of families with children headed by a single parent 22% 27%
Source: Kids Count Data Book, Published by Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1999.

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4.2 History of FPS Service in New Jersey

New Jersey has provided FPS services since 1987 using the Homebuilders Model. A Project Director was hired in September 1986 and program design and contracting enabled four programs to begin operations in June 1987. These initial four programs were in Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, and Hudson Counties. By the end of the following year, four additional programs were initiated. FPS services were available in 14 of its 21 counties by 1990. Following the passage of the federal legislation, New Jersey passed a Family Preservation Act in 1993.

The new legislation resulted in the extension of FPS programs to all 21 counties by October 1995. In addition, the bill established the requirement for a statewide coordinating unit, the Family Preservation Technical Support Unit, TSU, to implement the FPS philosophy consistently statewide and to monitor FPS contracts for service. The bill also required the development of a manual of standards for all districts and monitoring by the state legislature including a yearly report. The report must include, at a minimum, the number of families served; the number of children placed in foster care, group homes, and residential settings; the average cost of providing services to a family; the number of children who remain with their families for one year after receiving services; and recommendations for improving the delivery of FPS services in the state.

The state used Title IV-A emergency assistance funds (EAF) to support the expansion of FPS to all 21 counties in 1995. The annual budget for FY1995, prior to the use of EAF was $3.4 million. Current administrators report that the recent block granting of IV-A funds has not affected the funding of FPS.

Description of FPS Model. DYFS chose to utilize the Homebuilders model for family preservation services, considered “a gatekeeper” to out-of-home care in the last community-based effort to prevent out-of-home placement for a child. It was initially established to reduce the number of congregate and institutional placements of adolescents in the state. It is now described as playing an important role in the continuum of care available within the state's children's services.

Caseload size, intensity and duration, and accessibility of the family preservation service are defined in state legislation. These requirements are summarized as follows:

The state standards for FPS workers stress flexibility of schedule. As to the intensity of service, there is a five-hour per week minimum for contact with families. This is interpreted in the standards as an average of ten face-to-face hours per week with a minimum of three face-to-face contacts per week. More intense services are provided during the initial weeks and in cases with extensive safety issues or other severe needs. Workers are required to keep a phone beeper active or maintain a backup beeper for another worker at all times.

Each program is budgeted to provide limited financial assistance to families. Since the inception of the program in 1987, an average of $75 per family has been budgeted. The money is available to help families with concrete needs such as unpaid utility bills or household appliances or to be used as a token reinforcement to facilitate progress in goal achievement. FPS programs also can apply for Protective Services Emergency Funds (PRS) through the referring DYFS office. This additional funding is available to ameliorate a situation of abuse and neglect where there is an immediate threat to the child's well being or inability of the parent to continue caring for the child. Allowable expenditures include household equipment, food, and payment for shelter.

Each FPS program is required to establish a county based FPS Advisory Council. The Advisory Council provides input to the FPS program and DYFS from the local perspective. The council is chaired by the FPS director and co-chaired by the DYFS worker responsible for screening cases to the FPS program in each county (DYFS screener). The body includes at least one representative from each of the referring agencies in the county as well as key agencies involved in follow-up services for families. Issues for discussion include eligibility criteria, case management, follow-up service, case closure, defining imminent risk, and how to use the program for substance abusing parents. The councils have been most successful in counties where referrals come from many sources, but are inactive in counties that focus only on DYFS cases (e.g., Bergen, Ocean).

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4.2.1 Referral Process

Although decisions to refer families are made by the worker and supervisor, workers do not directly refer cases to family preservation programs. Each county has an appointed DYFS screener. All referrals to FPS must be made through the DYFS screener in the designated county. The screener makes referrals to the FPS program when slots are available and maintains a log of unmet need, when no slots are available at time of referral. The screener monitors the referral process, making sure that the referring worker has completed all necessary forms and processes. When a vacancy becomes available in the FPS program, the screener makes a referral on a first-come first-serve basis. Consistent with the criterion of imminent risk, DYFS policy precludes keeping a waiting list for service.

The DYFS referral process allows a DYFS worker to respond immediately to the service needs of a family with a child at risk of placement. Before referring for FPS, the worker must:

The worker first presents the recommendations to her or his supervisor and then, if approved by the supervisor, to the screener for referral.

DYFS has decided that FPS should be used cautiously for three populations that require specialized resources: homeless families, out-of-county residents, and families with identified substance abuse problems. These special circumstances must be considered during this assessment by the caseworker. Families that are homeless and living in a shelter can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Families that move across county lines are eligible for FPS in their county of residence. Referral can be made by a caseworker in the former county to the screener in the new county. Similarly, there are limits on services to families with substance abuse problems. The policy suggests that it is unlikely that a substance problem can be resolved in a 5-6 week period. FPS can be used in these cases to help with parenting skills and to provide coordination with the treatment program.(4)

Targeting of Referrals. FPS in New Jersey was initially intended to enhance the continuum of services available for adolescents. In the last few years, the state has encouraged a shift in the focus of their targeting to families with young children. FPS is designed to work with families with children at imminent risk of placement in order to prevent unnecessary placement. As stated in the FPS manual, given that each county's caseloads and placement options vary, discussion should outline the types of families considered to be at imminent risk of placement.(5) Final decisions concerning policy related to FPS are made jointly by the FPS providers and DYFS.

According to state legislation, FPS is targeted at families with substantiated abuse or neglect, where the children are at risk of harm from maltreatment. Referrals from non-DYFS sources must have risk of placement, but do not require confirmed abuse or neglect. The state defines three levels of eligibility for targeting purposes:

These broad and overlapping criteria for targeting allow individual counties the flexibility to look very different from the state legislative vision.

County practices certainly varied from this model. Workers interviewed from our seven study counties presented several alternatives. In most counties the major types of referrals are ongoing cases, cases in which workers have worked with the family for many months or years. A worker has to demonstrate that many alternative services have been offered. This so-called three-service rule, in practice, often discourages workers from making a referral to FPS until very late into the life of the case. For many families, workers seemed to consider FPS because it was the only option of service left to offer a family in long-term cases. For example, in Bergen County, the screener reported that traditionally only a small percentage of cases originated from intake. She estimated that only 30% of cases result from recent incidents of maltreatment. Across the seven study counties, 50 percent of the cases were from investigating workers. A statewide referral form was used in all counties, (see Appendix F).

According to Statewide guidelines, counties cannot maintain waiting lists for FPS service. However, DYFS screeners are permitted to maintain a list of “chronic families” who might benefit from FPS service if a vacancy occurs. In practice, the distinction between this list and a waiting list is trivial and was difficult to distinguish in interviews with county staff. One county clearly reported the use of a waiting list, particularly for families with adolescents with behavior problems. The children were temporarily maintained in their homes, often using homemaker services, until a FPS vacancy occurred. Workers indicated that being on the waiting list provided relief to the stressed caretaker, knowing that intensive FPS service would eventually become available.

Sources of Referrals. DYFS is the primary funder of FPS in New Jersey. DYFS screeners are the only authorized individuals who can make referrals to the contracted FPS provider in each county. While DYFS is the primary referral source, in some counties, referrals can also be made by other sources. In 1996 the breakdown of referral was 73 percent from DYFS and the remaining referrals from the following sources.

The non-DYFS referrals must be made through the screener. DYFS cases and families known to DYFS get priority, if a vacancy is available in the program.

The table below (Table 4-2) shows the number of referrals and percentage of referrals that come from DYFS as a referral source. “N/A” means the program was not yet in operation. The new programs that began in FY1996 (Hunterdon, Middlesex, Ocean, Somerset and Warren) serve only DYFS cases. Bergen County, one of the earlier programs, also serves only DYFS cases.

Table 4-2
Number and percentage of DYFS referrals to FPS by County for FY 1994-1996
  FY1997 FY1996 FY1995 FY1994
County N %DYFS N %DYFS N % DYFS N %DYFS
Atlantic 45 68.9 64 46.9 66 33.3 67 29.9
Bergen* 103 100 109 100 110 100 100 100
Burlington* 105 73.3 88 80.7 78 55.1 94 56.4
Camden* 83 66.3 83 61.4 159 58.5 226 52.7
Cape May 54 74.1 51 74.5 60 56.7 59 55.9
Cumberland 145 93.1 150 74.7 119 68.1 122 57.4
Essex* 214 71.0 166 73.5 229 52.4 161 67.1
Gloucester 38 50.0 47 36.2 70 22.9 94 28.7
Hudson 194 73.2 151 67.5 179 57.0 129 76.7
Hunterdon 40 100 21 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mercer 93 89.2 95 72.6 108 50.0 125 48.8
Middlesex 107 100 85 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Monmouth* 97 74.2 88 71.6 110 57.3 100 79.0
Morris 95 67.4 84 73.8 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Ocean* 56 100 53 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Passaic* 82 86.6 103 59.2 113 56.6 99 61.6
Salem 68 94.1 71 88.7 76 64.5 81 59.3
Somerset 40 100 23 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Sussex 60 48.3 37 70.3 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Union 79 86.1 126 47.6 140 26.4 167 49.7
Warren 43 100.0 36 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 1841 81.0 1731 73.6 1617 55.0 1624 59.2
* Evaluation Sites

As can be seen from the above table, there is considerable variation in the proportion of cases coming from DYFS. Looking at the evaluation sites (marked with *), Passaic County increased from 59.2% in FY 1994 to 86.6% in FY 1997 of cases documented as DYFS referrals. In actual numbers, this is reflected by a major reduction in non-DYFS referrals in Passaic County from 42 in FY1996 to 10 in FY97.

Counties also developed separately funded FPS programs for targeted populations. Essex had a second FPS program specifically funded for boarder baby referrals. Monmouth and Burlington Counties also reported the funding of additional slots specifically for the Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU) used primarily by the court.

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4.2.2 Statewide FPS Case Characteristics

FPS programs are required by contract to collect and report social and demographic information on the families that they serve. Statistics are available through Fiscal Year 1997, as reported in the Family Preservation Annual Report. DYFS has placed an emphasis on having the families served by FPS programs reflect the composition of the DYFS general population and the communities they serve.

In New Jersey, the FPS programs have historically served more one-parent families. In FY96, 57% of families served were one-parent families (single, divorced, separated, and widowed). Additionally, from FY 1992-95, approximately 39% of families served were reported as having AFDC as their primary source of income. FY96 showed an increase in this percentage to 48%.

The largest racial group served statewide is white families, including around 40% of families served in FPS each year, as shown in Table 4-3 below.(6) The percentage of white families increased slightly from 41.5% in FY 1994 to 44.8% in FY 97 with a corresponding 4.3 percent decrease in the percentage of African American families served.

Table 4-3.
Race/ethnicity of families served in FPS
Race of Families Served FY1994 FY1995 FY1996 FY1997
White 41.9% 39.7% 42.7% 44.8%
African-American 37.1% 37.7% 36.5% 32.8%
Hispanic 14.3% 15.7% 14.4% 16.5%
Other 6.7% 6.9% 6.4% 5.9%

In FY1995, there was discussion during state budget planning that FPS programs were not adequately serving the appropriate population.(7) The DYFS Program Report for Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996 suggests that the FPS caseload should ideally reflect the active DYFS and foster care caseloads. Statewide, about two-thirds of the children in foster care are African-American, while 37% of FPS population served during the year was African-American. There is some county variation. The African-American populations of certain counties' FPS and total active caseloads (e.g., Essex, 84% FPS and 86% active caseload) more closely match (see Table 4-4). While there is some possible bias in comparing FPS full-year statistics to point-in time DYFS caseload demographics, DYFS suggests that caseload demographics have not changed much over the past several years. Most programs have not served African-American families in the same proportion as the foster care caseload.

Table 4-4.
Percent of FPS, DYFS total, and foster care caseload that is African-American by County
County  Percent of Caseloadb
FPSa DYFS Total Caseload DYFS Foster Care Caseload

Bergen

Burlington

Camden

Essex

Monmouth

Ocean

Passaic

Statewide

15%

23%

33%

84%

26%

12%

39%

37%

25%

32%

54%

86%

39%

19%

45%

50%

33%

44%

67%

92%

59%

37%

60%

67%

a The report uses cumulative yearly percentages as reported by FPS programs. The DYFS Active Caseload counts for Total and Foster Care are point in time. Active caseload can reflect duration bias for those children remaining longer in the DYFS actual or foster care caseloads.

b Family Preservation Services. Program Report for Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996, July 1997, pg. 43.

During the three-year period FY1994-FY1996, older children continued to be targeted by family preservations programs. However, the percentage of older children, age 13-17, decreased from 56% in FY95 to 37% in FY 97. DYFS credits this shift to an increase in service to children in reunification cases, where the distribution of ages of children tends to be younger. In addition, several of the newer programs, including Huntingdon, Ocean, and Somerset served a majority of younger children in FY1996.

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4.2.3 Reunification Component of the Program

In New Jersey, referrals can be made to family preservation services for both placement prevention and family reunification. As described in the DYFS family preservation standards manual, placement prevention applies to families where one or more children are at imminent risk being placed into foster care. Children in short term emergency placements at risk of longer placements are also eligible for placement prevention services. Families with children already in placement for any period of time are eligible for referral to FPS as reunification cases. Workers can refer families when they are preparing to reunite with a child currently in placement within 7 days. This is regardless of the length of time the child was in placement.

Family reunification cases in family preservation are eligible for the same services as placement prevention cases. By definition, the criterion for imminent risk of placement does not apply for reunification cases. For reunification cases, workers and FPS screeners appear to have broader latitude in determining when a family will benefit from FPS service. In addition, FPS programs are monitored for contractual compliance in preventing children from avoiding placement. Reunification cases are excluded from this monitoring, so these cases are perceived as under less scrutiny by the programs.

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4.2.4 Training

In FY1996 all Child Protective Service (CPS) workers, around 2,000 field staff statewide, participated in a full day of training on the philosophy and practice of family preservation services. The intent of the training was to encourage a conformity of type of cases referred to FPS around the state and to train new workers. The training emphasized that child safety is paramount. CPS and FPS workers should only consider or continue family preservation services if there is minimal safety risk to the children in leaving them in their own homes. Separating children from families and creating new temporary or permanent families was emphasized as good practice in some situations. The training reviewed the basics of family preservation assessment, interventions and referrals, and the techniques that are used with families.

In New Jersey, there has been consistency in the content and philosophy of training of FPS workers. Since the inception of FPS in New Jersey, Behavioral Science Institute (BSI) conducted the training sessions for new workers at the 13 programs in the state. In March 1998, the state ended their contract with BSI. According to the FPS administrator, it was felt that the BSI program was too generic and that a New Jersey-specific program was needed. The Family Preservation Institute, a joint program with Rutgers University, began training in September 1998.

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4.3Implementation of the Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Services

DYFS, as reflected in interviews with FPS administrators and in their manual materials, is interested in integrating ongoing evaluation into the development of its FPS program statewide. The FPS state legislation in 1993 also required monitoring of outcomes of the program. Before discussing the implementation of the evaluation in New Jersey, Section 4.2.1 will review previous studies in the state and the lessons learned.

4.3.1 State's Interest in FPS Evaluation

Changes in the FPS programs have resulted from the previous studies conducted by the state. DYFS administrators described them as important and necessary catalysts for some of the changes in the FPS service and delivery models that have occurred over its ten-year history. The following sections briefly describe DYFS's evaluation and the Targeting Referrals Project.

4.3.2 DYFS Evaluation

A DYFS evaluation of the New Jersey family preservation model was conducted in four counties (Feldman, 1991). Cases were randomly assigned and followed for one year after service. Data are available on 117 experimental and 97 control cases. Thirty-three families that were “turned back” from the experimental group were excluded from the analysis.

Findings. Analyses were conducted on both placement prevention and improvement in family functioning. Measurement occurred at several points in time and comparisons were made between the treatment and control groups. Both the treatment and control groups made gains on the Moos Family Environment Scale, Interpersonal Support Evaluation List, and Child Well-being Scales. However, there were few significant differences between groups in the amount of change.

The differences in placement rates between the treatment and control groups were also examined (see Table 4-5). During the intervention period, approximately 6 weeks, 6% of families in the experimental group and 17% of families in the control group experienced placement of at least one target child. At 6 months post-termination, 27% of families in the experimental group and 50% of control group families had experienced at least one placement. At one year post-termination 43% of those in the experimental group and 57% of families in the control group had experienced placement.

Table 4-5.
Placement Data by Months Since Termination
Months Since Termination % of Families with Child Placed
FPS treatment Control
3 Months 22 37
6 Months 27 50
12 months 43 57

The state concluded(8) that FPS services can be effective in preventing placement for the short term. If used as a short-term "front-end" it can be useful as part of the continuum of services needed by a family. However, more is needed to be known about the targeting of families and outcomes. In particular, staff wanted to know which families are likely to get the best outcome from the short-term service.

4.3.3 The New Jersey Family Preservation Services Targeting Referrals Project

Following the DYFS study, it was felt that the decision-making process involved in making a referral to FPS needed to be evaluated. In 1992, DYFS, with funding from the Tri-State Network of HomeBuilders, conducted a study to examine the caseworker decision making process to assess the targeting issue. DYFS was concerned that targeting was not solely directed at children at imminent risk of placement. It conducted a series of case record reviews, caseworker interviews, caseworker focus groups, and a survey in four district offices. The project sought to examine why workers refer, how the referral process functioned, and what factors influenced the selection of families for referral.

Findings. The study included findings about the referral process, reasons for selecting families, and the perception of FPS. In regard to the referral process, workers appeared to understand the process including forms, screener's role, and procedures. Some workers admitted to making referrals only when they knew that a slot in FPS was available. Most workers considered the acceptance process random, since it required referring a case that met the criteria for referral at the time a slot was available.

The consideration of a family for referral appears to be related to availability of resources for families, especially adolescents. Many workers expressed frustration regarding the availability of community resources. FPS was often used as crisis intervention, in response to a parent's request to remove a troubled teen from the home. During that time, some workers recast the definition of imminent risk because of the availability of voluntary placements. Children, especially adolescents, while not at risk of harm, could be at imminent risk of placement by parent request. Parental cooperation and desire for placement of their children were considered to be an important factor in making a referral to FPS.

The Project defined eight policy issues and implications:

  1. The required timing of family in crisis and at imminent risk when a FPS slot is available is unrealistic. The project recommended increasing the number of slots in each county to a saturation level.
  2. FPS is not being used as placement prevention as intended. The existence of voluntary placements allows families at low risk of harm into placement. The recommendations include more policy education. They particularly recommend establishing routine referrals of children who are headed for placement.
  3. FPS is being used as an adolescent crisis intervention and treatment program. The recommendation is that DYFS should develop more services in the community for adolescents.
  4. There must be more emphasis on follow-up services for clients after FPS. The recommendation is for service delivery standards and broader funding for continuum of care services.
  5. Some families spiral into crisis after a previous period of FPS services. DYFS procedures allow those families to be referred for an additional period of FPS service, called a "booster."; Workers do not adequately use FPS booster services.
  6. DYFS families referred to FPS are not being tracked routinely by SIS, the state child welfare tracking system. It was recommended that training is required to ensure workers record the FPS activity into SIS. In addition, it was recommended that FPS agencies get linked up to the DYFS computers to enhance tracking of families. This will allow DYFS to track referrals and service data, but will not provide access to the SIS for FPS agencies.
  7. The DYFS System is a reactive one. The recommendation calls for DYFS to develop intensive services for families prior to imminent risk.
  8. Local FPS issues are not being resolved at the local level. The recommendation calls for a better use of conflict resolution.

While some of these recommendations (#1 and #2) were reflected by the legislative implementation of FPS in 1993, the need for expanded services mentioned in #3 and #7 is still under consideration and embodied in new strategies outlined by DYFS administrators as new directions for the FPS program. Some of the problems identified as issues in this early project are still obstacles today.

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4.3.4 Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Services

Executive staff in New Jersey expressed early interest in participation in this evaluation to obtain a thorough assessment of their family preservation services. FPS services in New Jersey had been operational for almost ten years. They were recently expanded to all counties. The emphasis, while originally focused on adolescents with family problems, was undergoing a shift to maltreatment cases involving young children.

In addition to such things as maturity of the program and the use of the Homebuilders model, New Jersey also met the study's criterion that there was not saturation of FPS services. To avoid the ethical concern of denying services to families, sites were considered where service demand exceeded the number of slots available. Ten counties were identified as possible sites. They were Warren, Ocean, Bergen, Cape May, Monmouth, Salem, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson and Middlesex. DYFS administrators decided on the final sites to be included. They wanted a balance of northern and southern counties as well as urban and suburban ones. In addition, the DYFS random assignment study had been conducted in four counties. DYFS wanted to limit the research burden on these counties. DYFS selected seven counties that agreed to participate: Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Monmouth, Ocean and Passaic Counties. As seen in Figure 4-1, this resulted in a cluster of three counties in the Northern part of the state and four in central New Jersey. A target of 500 cases was set for New Jersey to allow for adequate subsample analysis.

DYFS requested a 60-40 split of cases in experimental and control groups. Having a better than 50% chance of obtaining family preservation services was thought to encourage caseworkers to make referrals.

Figure 4.1. New Jersey counties participating as evaluation sites (shown in color)

Figure 4.1. New Jersey counties participating as evaluation sites.

The procedures for targeting and screening were determined with Central Office DYFS staff, then individualized with counties to fit their service delivery procedures. DYFS administrators, while interested in participating in the evaluation, had concern about the random assignment. They wanted to work out all ethical and procedural concerns before allowing the evaluators to talk with county staff. As a result, state FPS administrators did not include county DYFS staff or FPS administrators in discussions with evaluators until workplan, procedures, and protocols were completed. This delayed and possibly lost some of the "buy-in" by the local administrators and workers.

The screening protocol, developed for the evaluation and discussed in Chapter 2, was offered to counties to assist with targeting cases for family preservation. It was asked that the tool be completed for all cases considered for FPS, as well as children being referred for placement into foster care.(9) For counties that had a formal pre-placement conference, the screening protocol would be completed during that meeting. For other cases, a referring worker would complete a screening tool with her or his supervisor prior to submitting a referral to the screener. All counties, except Passaic County, agreed to use the screening protocols for cases referred to FPS and randomly assigned to the evaluation. For placement cases, DYFS staff from all counties felt they could not commit to using the protocol, because it would be considered a paperwork burden to staff.

We received screening protocols on 56 percent of the 442 net study cases.(10) In addition, workers completed protocols on 15 cases that were not referred for random assignment. Our intent had been for workers to use the screening tool for all cases considered for family preservation services. However, this did not occur. Of the screening protocols for cases that were randomly assigned, 60 percent (147) were experimental and 40 percent (99) were control. Table 4-6 presents a breakdown of item responses for each of the screening questions.

The screening protocol asked nine questions to establish a risk score. The worker and his or her supervisor were to complete the form at the time the case was reviewed for referral to FPS. The purpose of the form was to have workers reassess certain conditions of the case to make sure it was appropriate for family preservation services. The form was not intended to replace worker judgement, but to give them an opportunity to review their decisions about the appropriateness of the case for FPS.

Table 4-6.
Item Response For Screening Protocol

Screening Protocol Question

Cases Randomly Assigned (%) (N=245) Cases Not Randomly Assigned (%) (N=15)
1. Number of previous substantiated abuse and neglect reports:
None 29 15
One 43 54
Two 24 23
Unknown 4 8
Total % 100% 100%
2. Substantiated report of abuse and neglect within the last six months:
No 59 59
Yes 32 33
Unknown 8 8
Total % 100% 100%
3. Has a child been previously removed and placed in substitute care because of maltreatment?
No 65 50
Yes 27 42
Unknown 9 8
Total % 100% 100%
4. Has a perpetrator currently living in the family made threats of physical harm to the family in the last two weeks?
No 71 69
Yes 18 23
Unknown 11 8
Total % 100% 100%
5. Perpetrator in family ever convicted of a crime against a person:
No 68 92
Yes 4 --
Unknown 26 8
Total 100% 100%
6. Perpetrator in family abuses drugs:
No 60 69
Yes 19 8
Unknown 21 23
Total 100% 100%
7. At least one of the victims 3 years old or less:
No 76 77
Yes 23 23
Unknown 1 --
Total % 100% 100%
8. Single-female-headed household:
No 49 47
Yes 45 53
Unknown 6 --
Total % 100% 100%
9. Any income from employment:
No 59 47
Yes 33 53
Unknown 8 --
Total% 100% 100%
10. Total Score    
0 8 7
1 12 13
2 20 13
3 22 27
4 24 20
5 9 13
6 3 --
7 1 7
8 1 --
Total % 100% 100%
Average 2.9 3.1

Guidelines provided to the workers said that cases receiving a score greater than 2 and less than 5 fell within reasonable risk, and should be referred. Cases with a score of less than 2 might not be considered at risk and cases with a score greater than 5 might have too high risk. Although workers could refer cases outside the 2-5 range, they were asked to provide the reason they believed the case should receive family preservation services. Examples of reasons that were offered for scores below 2 are acting–out teenagers and teenagers with suicidal tendencies. The majority of cases received a score between 2 and 5 (75 percent). Only 5 percent of the cases had a score greater than 5 and 20 percent had a score less than 2. In New Jersey, caseworkers indicated they did not believe the risk scale sufficiently addressed the problems of teenagers, and therefore there were cases that did not score as high as they should have.

The workers completing the screening protocols depicted the majority of the children having previous abuse and neglect allegations (67 percent), but less than one-third of them within the last six months. Workers reported that 23 percent of cases had a child age three or less. The reader is reminded that these findings are based on screening protocol data completed by workers at the time of referral to family preservation. Overall scores on experimental and control cases were similar and are not presented here.

The second column of the table provides a breakdown of the responses to the screening protocol for the cases not submitted for random assignment. As there are so few of these cases, comparisons with randomly assigned cases are problematic. The average score for the two groups is similar, 3.1 for the non-study cases, and 2.9 for the study cases.

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4.3.5 Initiation of Project

Preparation and training for the experiment were conducted in the summer and early fall of 1996. Training sessions were held with both DYFS screeners and FPS program coordinators. During one-day training sessions, study procedures were reviewed including use of study forms, the screening protocol, random assignment procedures, and the role of the study site coordinator. There is some variation in the number of screeners, depending on the number of field offices in each county (see Table 4-7).

Table 4-7.
Number of DYFS screeners and local offices by County

County

Number of DYFS Screeners Number of DYFS Local Offices
Bergen

Burlington

Camden

Essex

Monmouth

Ocean

Passaic

1

1

1

5a

1b

1

2

1

1

2

5

2

1

2

a. The five screeners alternated as screeners for Essex County on particular days each week. There was also a supervisor assigned to the unit.

b. The Monmouth screener was stationed in the southern district office. The northern district office had a worker assigned as "gatekeeper" to screen cases and relay each referral to the screener.

In addition, meetings groups were conducted with self-selected groups of caseworkers and supervisors in each county prior to the start of random assignment. Study staff traveled to each county and met with public agency caseworkers, supervisors, and agency administrators as well as FPS workers and the administrator at each contracted private agency. Workers were very resistant to random assignment and concerned that it would deny service to families, cause extra tasks, and delay referrals for their caseloads.

Two site coordinators were hired and assigned to assist DYFS and FPS staff with the collection of information needed to complete random assignment and the conducting of interviews. One site coordinator worked with the three northern counties (Essex, Bergen and Passaic) and the other worked with the four southern and central counties (Monmouth, Ocean, Camden and Burlington). Random assignment was initiated in late November 1996.

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4.3.6 The Random Assignment Process

Only DYFS referrals to family preservation in the selected sites were considered for random assignment. Excluded from the study were cases referred by non-DYFS sources, cases served in family preservation prior to the study that were returning for a second "booster" service, and reunification cases.

DYFS uses a broad definition of reunification as a referral criterion. The policy does not put time limits on how long a child was in placement. Caseworker, supervisor, and screener jointly decide whether a child is considered being reunified from a placement or whether the case is considered a placement prevention case, that is, the goal was preventing the child from entering a long-term placement. For the study we used a guideline of seven days. If a child had been in placement more than 7 days, we excluded him or her from the study. Although this process was monitored closely, nine such cases entered the study, but were removed from the analyses because children were in care for longer than seven days at the time of random assignment.

DYFS workers could also re-refer a case for FPS anytime after the completion of the program. This "booster" or "booster shot" still must meet the criteria of "imminent risk" and has a maximum service of four weeks. There is no maximum waiting time between the first period of intervention and the booster; however, after a year, a booster would be counted as a full case with a new case number. Cases being referred for booster service where the original FPS service was conducted prior to the study were excluded from random assignment.

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4.3.7 Concerns of DYFS and FPS Staff

Initial and subsequent meetings were held with supervisory and casework staff at both the county DYFS offices and the family preservation programs. Many concerns about the study and its impact on operations and service to families were discussed. The most unanimous concern in every DYFS office was the requirement for additional paperwork. Supervisors were concerned that requiring caseworkers to perform additional paperwork would be a barrier to participation. Study personnel agreed to modify procedures to minimize the burden on workers and to assure staff that paperwork would not be duplicative. Some counties agreed to consider using study forms as substitutes for existing forms.

Another common concern to both DYFS and FPS staff in all counties was the possibility of denial of service to families. The study design is based on the assumption that each participating county had a higher demand for service than the existing slots permitted. When asked by a DYFS administrator if they could fill an additional slot with families, every county screener said, "yes." The issue was most pressing in counties where a waiting list was kept. In Bergen, for example, workers spoke of promising families FPS when a slot was available. It was felt that the promise of future availability of service to a family with a troubled adolescent was an important incentive to a parent not to insist on placement of the child. DYFS staff acknowledged that a waiting list was not consistent with the imminent risk criterion of the FPS service.

Staff in many of the counties stated other concerns. DYFS workers, DYFS screeners, and FPS staff were concerned that the random assignment process would disrupt the relationship between DYFS and FPS staff. This was voiced for both counties with good and bad working relations. For counties with good working relationships, it was believed that the random assignment mechanism would interrupt the good communication between DYFS and FPS in regard to vacancies, case characteristics, and relaying of information. For counties where communication was already poor between DYFS and FPS personnel, it was felt that the study mechanisms would cause things to get worse.

In addition, DYFS supervisors were concerned that the random assignment process would interfere with the Title IV-A eligibility process. DYFS claimed a portion of FPS spending toward Emergency Assistance funding (EAF), under Title IV-A of the Social Security Act. Workers were required to have the family sign a IV-A eligibility form prior to referral to FPS. By getting the signature, workers begin the engagement process of getting a family ready to agree to participate in an intensive family service. Since workers could not know the results of random assignment until they returned to the office to make the referral, the workers felt they could be less forthright with families regarding the availability of the service. This appeared to be more an issue in counties such as Bergen and Monmouth, where the screeners prioritized cases for referral and did not seem to fully adhere to a first-come first service rule for cases.(11)

Several ongoing concerns were discussed during the meetings and continued to surface in discussions with staff during the course of the evaluation. These issues include:

4.3.8 Violations and Exceptions

As part of our negotiations with DYFS, it was agreed that a limited number of eligible cases could be excluded from the study. DYFS administrators felt it was important that they not deny services to families that district office staff felt were at an unacceptably high level of risk. It was agreed that eight cases prior to random assignment and six cases post- random assignment could be identified as exceptions in the study. The number of exceptions was calculated to minimize the impact of the exclusions on the outcome analysis. The post-random assignment exclusions (called violations in this report) would be used for cases that were assigned into the control group and became higher risk after a few weeks due to the return of an abusive spouse or other critical changes in the case. Interviews with caretakers and caseworkers were conducted on cases excluded from the study after random assignment and they are included in the analysis.

A district office manager or screener made requests for exclusion to Central office staff. Only the Coordinator of the Technical Support Unit (TSU) or the Administrator of the Office of Case Planning, Screening and Emergency Response (OCPSER) could approve exceptions. The TSU took responsibility for developing criteria that could be used statewide for approving the exclusions. Many more violations (24) and exceptions (33) occurred than originally planned.

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4.3.9 Inappropriate Referrals

Shortly after random assignment began in November 1996, study staff observed that some county screeners misinterpreted criteria for the evaluation and made inappropriate referrals. This was a particular problem for counties with multiple screeners (Essex and Passaic), as well as during periods when screeners were on vacation and substitute screeners were used. Sometimes, screeners would make a referral and subsequently additional information became available indicating the case was an inappropriate referral. Often these cases were identified by evaluation staff upon review of the DYFS referral materials or in conversation with screeners. These could occur either in the treatment or control group.

Many of the inappropriate referrals were reunification cases, not eligible for the study. Since our criteria excluded cases after placement of seven days, often screeners were not informed by caseworkers that the children were already out of home for an extended period prior to the referral. DYFS issued a memorandum to DYFS screeners clarifying that reunification cases where the children at risk were in care less than seven days should be included in the study. This appeared to help reduce inappropriate referrals in some counties. There was some concern that reunification as a reason for an inappropriate referral was being used to game the system by removing a case from the study that went "control." However, overall, 28 cases were identified as inappropriate referrals, 15 in the control group, and 13 in the experimental group.

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4.4 Child Welfare Issues in New Jersey

To provide further understanding of the context in which the study was conducted, the following gives a brief overview of issues in child welfare in New Jersey. Child welfare services in New Jersey are administered centrally by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), a branch of the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Organization of Child Welfare Services in New Jersey. The state is divided into four service regions: Northern: Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic, Bergen and Hudson Counties, Metro: Essex, Union and Middlesex Counties; Central: Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties; and Southern Atlantic: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May. Counties have one or more district offices.

Reports of child abuse can be made to either the local DYFS district offices or to a centralized Office of Child Abuse Control (OCAC), which handles all calls during evenings, weekends, and holidays. OCAC transfers all calls during regular business hours to the appropriate district offices. OCAC refers calls requiring an immediate response to an on call special response unit (SPRU) worker when the district offices are closed. Non-emergency cases are forwarded to the district offices for response. Emergency placement cases investigated by OCAC are transferred to the District office for follow-up. District offices have both intake and ongoing units. Some counties (e.g., Bergen) have converted to generic units, in which caseworkers perform both intake and ongoing case intervention.

The FPS Technical Support Unit (TSU) through a contract with DYFS, coordinates family preservation policy and programs on a state-wide level. The contract is supervised by the DYFS Office of Case Practice, Screening and Emergency Response, recently renamed the Program Support and Permanency Office. Because they were not DYFS staff, TSU staff reported that their authority was limited with most DYFS staff and district officials. The contractor during the entire study period was the Family Service Association of New Jersey. The TSU staff are responsible for the monitoring of all FPS providers.

Three tiered screening of child abuse/neglect reporting. DYFS utilizes a three tiered response system for inquiries for service through its hotline or individual district offices. An initial screening is conducted upon receipt of the call. Screening can result in one of three recommendations or tracks:

In the screening process, cases with less risk will be referred to the two latter tracks: family problems or I&R. Family problems can include both child-related problems and family problems. Child-related problems include child substance abuse, medical and psychiatric issues, and pregnant or teen parent issues. Family problems include domestic violence, homelessness, lack of supervision, parenting issues, and parental substance abuse.

Family preservation referrals come from both CPS and family problem cases. A substantiated maltreatment report is not required to meet the criteria for referral.

Number of Child Welfare Reports and Indicated Cases. In New Jersey, the count of official reports of abuse and neglect to the state is very broadly defined and uses a two-tiered definition. It includes both abuse and neglect, as well as requests for family services. The latter is defined in the state data as "family problems." According to 1995 NCCAN Report, New Jersey had a rate of 32.43 children reported per 1000 children in the population.(12) This was based on a duplicated count of 63,684 child-based reports in 1995, including 28,924 reports of child abuse and neglect and 34,760 reports relating to family problems. Thirty-two percent or 9,279 child-based reports of abuse or neglect were indicated, compared to a national average of 34%. Of reports substantiated, 608 or 7% of children named in reports were removed from the home during or as a result of the investigation. This is in comparison to a national average of 15% for 1994.

New Case Handling Standards. In 1996, DYFS revised its case handling standards to ensure that the risk of harm to children was given emphasis by workers during an investigation. A two-day training was provided to all case managers and supervisors. One key component of the new standards is the priority that is given to evidence about parental substance abuse. Up to this point in time, a report identifying a drug-exposed newborn was identified as a family problem case. The new state policy now requires that a report of a drug-exposed newborn to also be classified as a neglect allegation.(13) The change reflects the state's heightened concern about the effects of substance abuse.

DYFS attributes an increase in reports being classified as abuse and neglect to the change in standards. In January 1996, 44% of cases were classified abuse or neglect, compared to the total that includes cases classified as family problems. In December 1996, 58% of new reports and referrals were classified as child abuse or neglect.(14)

Table 4-8 compares total reports and referrals and counts of family problems and abuse or neglect reports and referrals from 1995-1996. There is an increase in total reports and referrals statewide. In particular, this increase occurred in six of our seven participant counties. However, for Bergen County, the total number of reports and referrals decreased from the previous year, from 3,564 to 3,323.

Table 4-8.
Total referrals by county by reason for referral
  Family Problems Child Abuse/Neglect Total
1995 1996 1995 1996 1995 1996
Bergen 2,323 2,052 1,241 1,271 3,564 3,323
Burlington 1,234 1,234 1,348 1,634 2,582 2,868
Camden 2,550 2,294 3,996 4,418 6,516 6,712
Essex Total 5,528 4,356 3,796 5,994 9,324 10,350

--Newark City

3,636 2,680 2,332 3,911 5,968 6,591
--Other Essex localities 1,892 1,676 1,464 2,083 3,356 3,759
Monmouth 3,033 2,496 2,030 2,607 5,063 5,103
Ocean 868 671 1,829 2,318 2,697 2,989
Passaic 2,550 2,506 2,151 2,623 4,701 5,129
TOTAL 34,760 30,638 28,924 37,179 63,684 67,817

Boarder Babies. Concern about infants in the care and custody of the state remaining in hospitals beyond medical necessity has been a significant policy and political issue for many states, including New Jersey. In 1996, DYFS responded to the issue with the development of a Boarder Baby Project Team and recommendations for several initiatives that were implemented the same year. The initiatives included a statewide program for the recruitment and training of foster parents, in order to maintain a standby pool of foster homes for boarder babies. In addition, a pilot program was initiated for the recruitment of foster parents interested in adoption, but willing to care temporarily for children. This program would allow concurrent planning for children, encouraging reunification, while preparing an alternative placement, in case the child stayed in care beyond a year.

A federal class-action suit was filed against DYFS and DHS by the Association to Benefit Children on behalf of foster children who remain in hospitals beyond medical necessity. A Final Order of Settlement was entered in December 1996 with several requirements. With the receipt of a Federal Abandoned Infants Assistance Grant, several program elements were added or modified. Since Essex County accounted for 80% of the boarder baby population, a Boarder Baby Unit was established in the Metropolitan Regional Office. Case managers, on call, provided expedited care management with a goal to ensure permanency within 30-60 days of initial placement. The family preservation provider in Essex County, The Bridge, also received additional family preservation slots to provide support to birth parents upon discharge from the hospital.

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4.5 Current Status in New Jersey

4.5.1 Feedback From Counties Post-random Assignment.

Interviews were conducted with DYFS district office staff and FPS staff in three participating counties in the Spring of 1998. The perceptions of staff regarding random assignment for the evaluation, changes in referrals to FPS during and after the evaluation, effects of the study, and the outcome of FPS were discussed.

DYFS and FPS staff believed that referrals to FPS increased after random assignment ended. Camden reported that new referrals increased from four cases per month in the fall of 1997 to seven cases per month in the spring of 1998 after random assignment ended. In fact, they began keeping a waiting list. Similarly, DYFS staff from Ocean claimed they had used a waiting list prior to the study and following the completion of random assignment they returned to using a waiting list and a triage procedure instead of first-come, first-serve.

Most DYFS and FPS staff attributed a drop in referrals to the evaluation. Camden staff indicated that individual workers became frustrated if one of their referrals became a control case. In Camden, some units, as a whole, did not refer cases at all. Several FPS providers spoke of low contractual utilization during the year. In addition, both FPS and DYFS staff described some changes in the types of referrals. According to staff, reunification cases increased during the study. Many felt this was a response to the study once workers learned that reunification cases were excluded from random assignment. For example, one worker asked a screener to consider a case of reunification because the birth father had left the home and a goal of services was to reunite him with his spouse and children. In Camden, staff spoke of a new Juvenile Court Judge who was ordering an FPS referral for reunification cases. Although staff voiced much concern about the number of cases served, there was little fluctuation in the number served in FY'96 through FY'98 (see Table 4-9).

Table 4-9.
Number of Families Served by FPS, 'FY 96 - FY 98' by County
County FY '96 FY '97* FY '98
Bergen 53 59 58
Burlington 48 54.5 47
Camden 57 69 51
Essex 82 73.5 84
Monmouth 54 56 53
Ocean 52 44 53
Passaic 52 50 51
* FY '97 totals include booster cases, counted as 0.5 case.

Despite the state's emphasis on serving more young children in FPS cases, targeting of teen children was still frequent in every county. Two reasons were cited. First, placement resources are often limited or expensive for this group. Therefore, FPS is considered while a resource is located. Second, ongoing cases with teenagers often exhaust all community resources and FPS is considered as a last resort to help the family.

One FPS director described a change in referral type due to the lower utilization of services during the study period. The DYFS screener could refer cases of lower risk when vacancies remained open. The screener felt that the study caused a delay in the referral process and some workers were concerned about referring high-risk cases. (Random assignments were made at the time of the initial phone call by the screener.) Camden FPS staff also reported that they relaxed their turnback policy, keeping low risk cases to avoid extensive vacancies in their caseload.

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4.5.2 FY1998 Case Characteristics of Participating Counties

Aggregate data describing the service in FPS programs are available from state reports. County-specific annual monitoring is presented for FY 1998. The random assignment period in New Jersey, November 1996-February, 1998 overlapped partially with this aggregate data. The data are based on information self-reported by each FPS program as part of their contract obligations and oversight. It provides a snapshot of the caseload of families served during the fiscal year closest to the end of the random assignment period. It includes only those DYFS families served by the program and excludes families "turnbacked" from service. The following table (Table 4-10), lists the number of families served by each county, the total number of children in each family and the number of children identified by the referring DYFS worker as at risk. All programs operated at similar service levels, except for Essex, which served 84 families.

Table 4-10.
Number of families, children served, and children at risk in Family Preservation by County, FY 1998
County No. Families No. Children No. Children at Risk Percentage of Children at Risk(%)
Bergen 58 118 81 69%
Burlington 47 75 75 100%
Camden 51 124 91 73%
Essex 84 228 130 57%
Monmouth 53 172 104 61%
Ocean 53 130 104 80%
Passaic 51 118 67 57%

The ages of children at risk in the seven selected counties are presented in the following Table 4-11. Over 40% of the children at risk in five of the programs were 13-17 years in age. In Passaic County, 75% were in that age range. The state's policy of serving younger children at risk of child abuse and neglect was not being followed during this time period. In Essex County, there is a FPS program for boarder babies which are not included in these data or in our study. Many of the infants at risk in that county would have been referred to its "Boarder Baby" program possibly affecting the number of young children reported in Essex's service.

Table 4-11.
Age category of children at risk (percentage) by County
County No. Children at Risk Ages 0-5 (%) Ages 6-9 (%) Ages 10-12 (%) Ages 13-17 (%)
Bergen 81 23 16 20 41
Burlington 75 12 17 21 47
Camden 91 21 19 20 40
Essex 130 18 24 14 45
Monmouth 104 28 20 19 33
Ocean 104 31 25 22 22
Passaic 67 6 4 15 75

During FY1998, the emphasis on referring cases with abuse/neglect or risk of abuse/neglect was not apparent in the seven participating counties. According to the Annual Monitoring data as shown in Table 4-12 below, the majority of cases in most counties were referred for reasons related to the behavior or activity of a child. The only exception was Ocean County that reported 51% of cases had abuse/neglect or risk of abuse/neglect as reason for referral. Over a third (36%) of Ocean's cases were referred as reunification cases.

Table 4-12.
Reason for referral (percentage) by County
County Abuse/Neglect (%) Risk of Abuse /Neglecta (%) Child-Relatedb (%) Otherc (%)
Bergen 18 21 57 4
Burlington 14 7 59 12
Camden 15 12 60 13
Essex 4 5 87 5
Monmouth 21 14 54 12
Ocean 25 26 13 36
Passaic 6 4 81 9
a. Risk of abuse and neglect includes cases referred for unknown injury cause.

b. Child-related reasons include runaway, behavior out of control, parent/child relationship, juvenile delinquency, and child is suicidal.

c. "Other" is primarily reunification in Ocean County.

Substance abuse continues to be a key problem in the FPS service of these counties. The data in Table 4-13, reported by the FPS programs, identifies the number of families served in which substance abuse was identified. It was identified as a problem at any point during the intervention and was not necessarily known at the time of referral to FPS. This is an important distinction since New Jersey now specifies that substance abuse by caregiver is grounds for reporting of child neglect. In addition, counties (DYFS and FPS programs) have local discretion on determining whether a family with substance abuse problems would benefit from FPS service. In Bergen County, almost half of the families served had substance abuse problems during FY 1998. In Essex, Monmouth, and Passaic approximately a third (39%, 36%, 32%) of the families were identified with substance abuse problems. In Burlington, Camden, and Passaic Counties, child substance abuse problems were more prevalent than parent/guardian substance abuse problems.

Table 4-13.
Percentage of families with substance abuse problems by County
County Families with Substance Abuse Problems Parent/ Guardian Onlya Child Only Parent/ Guardian and Child Other Member of Household Only
Bergen 46 33 9 2 2
Burlington 24 9 13 2 0
Camden 14 6 8 0 0
Essex 39 25 10 2 2
Monmouth 36 28 2 4 2
Ocean 27 21 2 2 2
Passaic 32 8 14 6 4
a. Households where parent /guardian and another member of the household were identified with substance abuse problems are included in this category.

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4.5.3 Current Policy Context

Several statewide changes have occurred since random assignment began in November 1996. These were the new FPS computer system, changes in administration, the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection Services, statewide DYFS strategy planning, the federal adoption initiative, and welfare reform.

New computer system connecting DYFS and FPS programs. Problems in communication between public and private agencies can limit effectiveness of child welfare services. One of the major initiatives mentioned by state FPS administrators is the linkage of the 13 FPS agencies (serving 21 counties) with each other and the DYFS District and Regional offices. The prototype was scheduled to be in place in June 1997. The system will allow electronic exchange of referral and case information and more intensive program monitoring.

The FPS administrator reports that the system, now called the Electronic Case File System, was actually implemented in 1998 with most components activated. Staff at FPS programs were trained in spring 1998, and all programs began using electronic versions of forms at that time. There has been a delay in the communication component between the FPS and DYFS offices, while Internet security issues are resolved.

Change in Administration. Several leadership changes occurred during the implementation of the experiment. Several months after random assignment began, the Director of DYFS left office. In June 1997, the Director of the Technical Support Unit, changed. In September 1997, the Administrator of the DYFS Office of Case Practice, Screening and Emergency Response (OCPSER), changed positions.

The full impact of the change in leadership on the experiment is not discernible, however two effects can be identified. First, the approval of exceptions and violations were case-by-case determinations made by the TSU Director or the Administrator of OCPSER. Their threshold for approving an exception or violation was based on case specifics, but also reflected interpretation of county specific practice and policy, as well as state policy and politics. One would expect that different individuals have different thresholds for what is extremely high risk. At a briefing with several counties, one screener requested that the exception criteria be clarified, claiming it had changed as a result of the personnel changes.

Secondly, a new agreement with the study was made in regard to the length of the random assignment period. It was hoped that the original target of 500 cases would be reached in a one-year period of random assignment. The target was not reached in that time and shortly after the transition, a meeting was requested by DYFS administrators and FPS contractors to discuss the conclusion of the random assignment period. The new administrators requested that random assignment end by February 28, 1998, instead of continuing random assignment until a specified sample size was reached. A net sample size of 442 cases was achieved by the designated end date.

Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection. State administrators emphasized the importance of the Governor in defining the direction and priority for DYFS. In January 1997, Governor Whitman created the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Children Services (BRP) to review the status of the child welfare system in general and the performance of DYFS, in particular. A final report was issued in February 1998, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of the child welfare system and recommendations for every component of DYFS and other components of the broader statewide system of services for families and children. The report was very critical of DYFS, stating that resources had fallen behind need, that staff morale was low, and that the system was in a state of crisis.

The values included in the Panel Report include emphasis on child protection. As stated in a discussion of "Child Protection vs. Family Preservation"

Child protection is of paramount value. When there is a conflict between the safety of a child and a family's right privacy and autonomy, the child's safety overrides all other considerations. Any ambiguity regarding the safety of a child will be resolved in favor of eliminating the source of harm or separating the child from it. This may include the removal of a child from his/her family. While it asserts that child safety is the paramount value, the Panel affirms the need to support families.(15)

In regard to family preservation targeting, the report suggested that for children at imminent risk, DYFS should err on the side of placement over preservation. The Panel emphasized that workers do not have clear guidelines when to remove children and when to leave them in their homes and provide in-home services.

Additional observations made by the panel are relevant to FPS targeting and effectiveness. The Panel found that standards for placement were inconsistent across districts. It observed that availability of resources to serve families were often used in deciding whether to place a child. In particular it was concerned that availability of foster homes in sufficient numbers were influencing workers' decisions to place or use family services. This observation was noted also in our briefing sessions with workers in the seven experimental sites.

The Panel was critical of the state's continuum of family support and preservation services. It observed that the state uses most of its in-home dollars in the state-run FPS Program. It found the FPS model lacking in flexibility stating:

Unfortunately, the program contains explicit limitations, offering very intensive services over a very short time period of four to eight weeks. This program has never received sufficient resources to meet the demand for services. But even more critically, it is too limited in terms of the minimum and maximum amount of time a worker can devote to a family. Most families have multiple long-term problems that cannot be addressed within one or two months. In addition, some families are unable to use such an intense approach and find it too intrusive.(16)

The Panel recommended that the FPS program be evaluated to determine what kind of cases it serves best and that existing slots be targeted to that type of case. In addition, the resources of the program should be expanded to fit the full continuum of preservation needs. This issue remains. The evaluation team heard comments from workers and administrators in several counties reiterating the dilemma that a very specific HomeBuilders model for placement prevention as the only DYFS funded resource was being stretched by workers and courts to fill the whole continuum of need.

Statewide DYFS Strategic Planning. In response to the Panel Report and need to plan for compliance with new Federal ASFA legislation, DYFS implemented a strategic planning process with DYFS staff and its community of service providers. A report in response was produced in June 1998. The report was organized according to six strategic goals: reform New Jersey's foster care system; improve safety and expedite permanency for children; improve the quality and accountability of DYFS direct services and administrative operations; enhance the professionalism of the child welfare workforce; improve case assessment and planning for children and families; and strengthen New Jersey's system of prevention services for at-risk children and families.

The plan mentions FPS services specifically only in the section on foster care reform. In that section, the plan recommends the expansion of FPS to include more reunification services as an approach to reduce the length of stay and to increase the number of children who reach successful permanency. In prevention services the plan does call for the coordination of all prevention services, to identify gaps and develop recommendations to improve the continuum of services.

DYFS is considering more specific changes to the FPS program statewide. According to the administrator for family preservation services, many changes are expected, stemming from a philosophical shift from preventing placement to a broader emphasis on family functioning and child and family stability. While placement prevention and attention to cases involving imminent risk will still have priority, county workers will be able to refer cases at a lower standard of substantial risk. Assessment cases and reunification cases will be eligible, as well as adoptive families and family foster homes where there is a risk of replacement for a child to another foster home.

A contractual change in service units is also being considered.(17) Presently, an FPS program is expected to serve a contracted number of families with duration of intervention from four to eight weeks (an average of 4 and one-half weeks per family). The standard for duration will be made more flexible to allow programs to serve families requiring shorter or longer periods. This will allow the flexibility to serve families in the broader eligibility categories described above.

Counties and local FPS programs will be given discretion to expand eligibility and standards for case practice. This will result in some movement away from the HomeBuilders model that has guided the New Jersey program model since 1987. Planning for these changes and a new service manual continues to be in development.

Federal Adoption Project. In October 1996, New Jersey began an Adoption Opportunities Grant to implement concurrent planning with the expressed goal of expediting permanency outcomes for children in three counties: Union, Middlesex, and Essex Counties. As part of the state's permanency reform, the initiative developed a new program model known as fost-adopt. Fost-Adopt parents provide foster care, but also offer an adoption commitment if this becomes the child's long-term goal. In return, agencies provide intensive reunification services w/the birth family. Timnely decision-making for the child and adoption planning for those children who remain in care for more than a year.

Welfare Reform. "WorkFirst New Jersey" is New Jersey's response to the federal welfare reform bill and the implementation of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). New Jersey passed the WorkFirst New Jersey Act effective March 1997. It is not yet certain how TANF will affect the child welfare system and the population it serves. There are several areas that might affect families. Persons seeking assistance are expected to engage in employment or work activity. It is not clear how this will affect families with children in regard to day care and the supervision of children. Secondly, there is a cumulative 60-month lifetime limit for the receipt of TANF for an individual. Next, of concern because of the high incidence of substance abuse among the child welfare population, individuals convicted of a felony involving the distribution, possession, or use of a controlled substance shall not be eligible for TANF. A person convicted of possession or use can be determined to be eligible only if they successfully complete a drug treatment program and remain drug free for a period of sixty days after completion of the program. Non-citizens who entered the country after August 22,1996 will be ineligible for TANF benefits.

One procedural change, which affects the FPS operation specifically, occurred in June 1997. Because TANF funding was converted into a federal block grant, the state no longer had to demonstrate eligibility for IV-A funding for FPS service. Workers previously had to have families sign an eligibility form prior to referral. The change simplified the referral process, requiring one fewer form. The state still required a visit within 72 hours of referral, but a signature was no longer needed to pursue the referral.(18) This eliminated a service barrier which DYFS workers had described during our interviews in participating counties. The full impact of WorkFirst on families must be monitored closely.

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4.6 Summary

New Jersey has offered family preservation services since 1987, using the Homebuilders Model. Since its inception, referrals have been targeted at adolescents. Since 1995, the state has tried to redirect targeting to families with young children at risk of placement. There has been little success to date in this retargeting. While DYFS used a statewide training model and procedures, there was much variation in access to FPS in the seven participating counties. Differences were observed in screening practices, use of waiting lists, targeting, the use and definition of FPS for reunification, and the availability of other intensive services in each county. All counties continue to serve predominately adolescent at-risk populations.

In New Jersey random assignment for the evaluation was conducted from November 1996 through February 1998 in seven selected counties. A net sample of 442 cases were assigned. Interviews with caretakers and caseworkers were conducted. Administrative data were also collected. The analyses of these interviews and administrative data are presented in the chapters 5, 6, and 7.

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Endnotes

(1) DYFS discontinued the contract for HomeBuilders training in March 1998. The new model is called New Jersey FPS. [Back to Text]

(2) In FY '2000, the contract changed to 14 families. [Back to Text]

(3) DYFS Referral Handout for Casework Staff, 1996. [Back to Text]

(4) NJ FPS Standards Manual, Chapter 3, page 2. [Back to Text]

(5) NJ FPS Standards Manual, Chapter 6, page 13. [Back to Text]

(6) Family Preservation Services, Annual Program Report for Fiscal Year 1997 (Draft), April 1999, Pg. 47, DYFS Office of Policy, Planning and Support. [Back to Text]

(7) Excerpted from Background paper, DHS budget 1995-96 , New Jersey State Auditor. [Back to Text]

(8) FPS Manual, Section 900, pg. 44. [Back to Text]

(9) Workers mainly completed screening forms only for families that they actually referred. [Back to Text]

(10) Workers in Passaic County did not complete screening protocols for the study. Excluding Passaic County from the total, we received protocols for 246 or 62% of the 399 net study cases .[Back to Text]

(11) The eligibility form was phased out during the course of the evaluation, as a result of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) legislation signed by President Clinton in August 1996. [Back to Text]

(12) Child Maltreatment 1995: Report From the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. [Back to Text]

(13) Children at Risk DYFS July 1995, page 33. [Back to Text]

(14) Excerpt of draft of DYFS 1995-1996 Child Neglect report. [Back to Text]

(15) Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection Services, Final Report, February 20, 1998, Part Two, page 3. [Back to Text]

(16) Panel Report, Part Three, page 5. [Back to Content]

(17) Implemented in FY '2000. [Back to Text]

(18) In 2000, the process was reinstituted, using the authorization form.  [Back to Text]


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