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Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System: The New Jersey Natural Parent Support Program

Publication Date
Nov 30, 2001

1. Introduction and Background Information

The Natural Parent Support Program (NPSP) is a publicly funded reunification program provided statewide in New Jersey through private contractors.(1) The program was brought to our attention by the Assistant Director of the Office of Program Support and Permanency. NPSP delivers intensive reunification services to families. It is the uniqueness of the program's approach that prompted its review. Interviews for this report were conducted in November 2000 with Department of Human Services, Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) personnel and NPSP program staff.

NPSP is considered by the state to be an intermediate intensive family reunification program. It incorporates a holistic approach to meeting the needs of families, distinguishing it from the basic services provided by the DYFS by its holistic and intensive nature. NPSP caseworkers work in the home with a family for 7 to 8 hours each week and have the flexibility to meet the needs of the family with a variety of services. Workers locate counseling and treatment services, social services, and employment and concrete services. Workers also teach and model behavior for parents to improve parenting and home-making skills, provide transportation, and even accompany clients to provide personal support. The program stresses teaching techniques such as helping parents recognize their strengths, providing positive reinforcement, rewarding children's positive behavior, and allowing parents to accomplish things on their own rather than facilitating dependency by doing everything for them.

Background information on state policy and service structure is helpful in understanding how the NPSP fits into the continuum of reunification services in the state. This report first outlines information on the New Jersey child welfare system and key policies in the state affecting child welfare and specifically reunification. Following state information, a detailed description of the NPSP provides specifics on implementation, staffing, services, the relationship NPSP has with coordinating agencies, barriers encountered in delivering NPSP services, program success, and funding. The report ends with some conclusions on why NPSP is unique in the continuum of reunification services provided in New Jersey.

1.1 State information

The New Jersey child welfare system is state operated and state administered. The Department of Human Services' Division of Youth and Family Services is responsible for administering social services to children and families. DYFS operates 32 district offices (in 21 counties) and six adoption resource centers, which are supervised by five regional offices. DYFS provides a foundation of services to clients, including investigations and maintaining responsibility and decision making for foster care cases. Although DYFS provides direct services, specialized and enhanced services for foster care and reunification may be provided by private agencies through state contracts. As of June 30, 1999, there were 6,439 children in foster homes statewide and an additional 2,265 in other out-of-home placements.(2) At any given time in a year, about 9,500 children are in out-of-home placement in the state.

Prompted by widespread concerns about the child welfare system in New Jersey, the Governor convened a blue ribbon panel on Child Protection Services in 1997 to review the status of the child welfare system. A final report was issued by the panel in 1998. The panel report made 382 recommendations to improve DYFS and the delivery of family and children services in New Jersey. In response to the Report of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel, other state initiatives, and recently enacted Federal legislation, DYFS engaged its staff and community representatives in an effort to implement a Strategic Plan. The plan has six goals that include: 1) to reform New Jersey's foster care system, 2) improve safety and expedite permanency for children, 3) improve the quality and accountability of DYFS direct service and administrative operations, 4) enhance the professionalism of the child welfare workforce, 5) improve case assessment and planning for children and families, and 6) strengthen New Jersey's system of prevention services for at-risk children and families.(3)

The Division also began implementation of a new Foster Care Reform and Permanency Initiative in 1999 as an initiative under then Governor Christie Todd Whitman. This initiative is aimed at reforming New Jersey's foster care system to ensure safety and expedited permanency for children in foster care. The goals of the initiative include increasing foster parent recruitment and training, increasing board reimbursement to foster parents, a new certification system for foster homes, increasing services to birth parents and foster children, expansion of legal services, and increasing staff to expedite permanency and implement concurrent planning on a statewide basis. Implementation began in FY 1999. The annualized funding for the program is approximately $22 million.(4) With the additional funding, the state began additional contracting with private, nonprofit agencies in the community to expand services to enhance foster care operations and move children through the system more quickly.

Prior to 1998, foster care units were located in district offices with child protection services, and foster care competed for resources with other DYFS services such as intake and protection. Because many of the resources and energies of the agency fell to protection and safety, foster care had difficulty competing for resources. As part of the foster care system reforms, the state separated the foster care units from other child protection units and began regionalizing the foster care units.

Another current impact on child welfare in New Jersey is the Children's Rights lawsuit. Children's Rights, Inc. filed a class action suit (Charlie & Nadine H. v. Whitman) in the State of New Jersey in August 1999, accusing the child welfare system of being poorly managed, overburdened, and underfunded. On behalf of children affected by the New Jersey DYFS, the suit alleged violations of the children's constitutional rights and charged that DYFS had failed to implement recommendations by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel to protect children and provide for their welfare. On January 27, 2000, a court dismissed all but two claims of the lawsuit.(5) The state has reiterated its continued effort to follow through with the strategic plan to improve the child welfare system regardless of the lawsuit. According to the state administrator we spoke to, there has been very little, if any, effect from the lawsuit on the delivery of foster care services.

Permanency options in the state (in order of preference) are: reunification, family placement (may include close family members, relative, close family friend, or godparent), adoption (can include selected adoption and foster care adoption), independent living, and long-term foster care with custody (although they are reconsidering the long-term foster care option because ASFA does not recognize this as a viable option).

New Jersey adopted ASFA guidelines through state legislation in March 1999. Prior to ASFA, the state's permanency timelines allowed for a looser schedule for obtaining permanency for a child. Caseworkers would focus on reunification, but not in planning ahead for cases, and as a result, cases dragged along in the foster care system and the process for timely permanency was not closely scrutinized. The strategic plan requires statewide implementation of the concurrent planning model, and DYFS has moved from sequential case planning to a dual-track planning system.

The DYFS offices are very sensitive to ASFA timelines and provision of services. The DYFS Central Region Planner said that since ASFA, that concurrent planning is practiced with all cases except in some cases with older children, for instance teens in residential placement. In these cases, concurrent planning, or the practice of working on reunification while at the same time moving the case towards adoption, is generally not practiced. Each time a case is reviewed, concurrent planning on the case and the progress or lack of progress made toward a goal of permanency are always given serious consideration.

When a child enters placement, one of the first assessments often made of the family is for substance abuse. Substance abuse evaluations are conducted by certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors available at each of the DYFS district offices. In addition, DYFS conducts broader family assessments. The assessments are used to guide service delivery to parents and children. Based on the family assessment, counseling and therapy services, in-home treatment services, and visitation are offered to families as part of traditional reunification services.

At the time that a case plan is made for an out-of-home case, DYFS requires parents to enter into informed consent contracts if the placement is "voluntary" in nature.(6) The contracts, drawn up with parents when their children are placed in foster care, advise parents of ASFA time limits and the requirements that must be met to have their child returned. In most cases, the informed consent can only lasts 6 months, at which time it is determined whether a goal of reunification is feasible or should be changed. If the parent is not making an effort to work toward reunification or making progress toward the set goals, then the case goal may be changed to adoption. If the child remains in care beyond the 6-month time period, the placement becomes court ordered.

For the purpose of studying the NPSP, we focused on the program serving the DYFS central region. The central region consists of five counties: Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, and Somerset. The counties in this region are demographically diverse. Three of the five counties are suburban with some urban areas and contain large populations, while two counties are smaller in population. At the time of this report, the central region had approximately 537 children in foster care. Of those children in care, 52 percent were African-American; 38 percent Caucasian; 5 percent Hispanic; and 5 percent were of other ethnic backgrounds.

Each county in the region has a DYFS district office that handles child welfare cases.(7) Each district office provides child welfare and protective services, and each has intake and investigative units. All new cases coming into DYFS come through those district office intake units. If a child is placed, the case would be assigned from intake to the permanency unit of the district office. This process may vary by county, because some of the district offices do not have formal "permanency," units which are generally found in the larger counties.

2. Natural Parent Support Program

Within the framework of the DYFS central region, the NPSP provides holistic and intensive in-home services to parents and children who are preparing for, or in the process of, reunification. The purposes of the program are to help parents with the difficult transition when reunifying with their children and to ensure that reunification of the family is successful.

Catholic Charities, under the Diocese of Trenton, is under contract to DYFS to administer the NPSP in the central region. The NPSP contract began in April 1999, and program services started in June 1999.

As part of the program development, Catholic Charities implemented a comprehensive planning process for the NPSP. This process included utilizing a DYFS Resource Development Specialist (RDS) at each of the six DYFS district offices to assist with the program. The RDS acts as the "gatekeeper" to the program, handling referrals from DYFS to the program and finding resources and services to support families in the program. Catholic Charities also instituted regular program planning sessions which are held every 7 to 8 weeks. At these sessions, key people from DYFS; NPSP staff including the program director, the RDS, program supervisors, and caseworkers; and on occasion the state contract/business managers meet to discuss problems and issues encountered. Issues discussed may include communication between county and program staff, problems with individual cases, resource problems, or contract questions. The sessions have been successful at identifying potential problems and working them out before they develop further.

2.1 Target Population, Eligibility, and Referral

The target population for the NPSP is families where the parent and child (currently in placement) are preparing for reunification and for whom reunification appears to be imminent. The majority of families served by NPSP are in the process of reunification. While most cases involve children being returned to birth parents, other relatives may also be served by the program.

NPSP in the central region of New Jersey serves an average of 10-14 families each month (approximately 30 families annually). Families may be referred at three points in a case: (1) at the time of child placement, (2) 3 months prior to reunification, or (3) within 3 months after reunification. If a family is accepted into the program at the time of placement, it is anticipated that reunification will take place within a fairly short time. Families entering the program after reunification are referred for reunification support.

A family's eligibility is determined based on the child's length of foster care placement, the number of prior instances of abuse or neglect for the child, the child's emotional and behavioral progress while in care, and the caseworker's belief that the birth parent(s) is amenable to more intensive services than the traditional reunification services he/she has been receiving. There are no eligibility limitations with regard to the age of a child.

Referrals to the NPSP come from DYFS through the RDS at each district office. DYFS workers fill out a form for referral to the program, based on the needs of the family, and whether it will benefit from the program. Workers are able to visit the RDS and discuss the NPSP program and appropriateness of a particular case for the program. The RDS is responsible for reviewing the case characteristics and signing off on the referral. If there is a problem with the case being inappropriate, or if the DYFS worker has not clearly presented the family's information for referral, then the RDS will track down the case information. For referral to NPSP, the RDS gives consideration to the case goal and what problems the DYFS worker is experiencing with a family. Because NPSP is a program that bridges and reinforces a child's reintroduction into the home with caretaker and family, the RDS reported that most of the families are highly motivated to reunify. However, there are cases with difficult problems where parents have mental illness, substance abuse, or the child is angry and acts out. In cases with more difficult problems, the RDS may conference with the NPSP supervisor and worker to see if the family will fit into the program.

The RDS is responsible for faxing referrals to the NPSP. The referral process was made to be very easy. Mandatory information required at the time of referral includes a brief explanation of why the case is being referred to NPSP, the child's name, child's age, the child's location, and the DYFS liaison's signature. Cases referred are generally ongoing, although cases from intake are accepted. One NPSP worker told us that they usually do not see families that have been in the system less than 3 months. Once a case is accepted into NPSP, the DYFS case worker maintains management of the case and may also provide some services to the family, however the NPSP worker is the family's primary service provider.

Parents who are substance abusers can be accepted into the program. However, NPSP staff have found that it is difficult to work with parents who are actively using substances, unless the parent is receiving substance abuse treatment. The program has, on occasion, had parents or caretakers who admitted they were using drugs and refused to seek treatment. Those cases generally ended up closing within 30 days. The decision to close the case is made under consultation with the DYFS worker and the family, when it becomes clear that the parent is not willing to stop using substances and therefore cannot work toward permanency with his/her child. Due to the relatively short duration of the program, parents who are substance abusers must have completed most of the drug treatment program prior to receiving NPSP services.

NPSP workers respond to a case within 3 days after referral and perform an initial assessment of the family within 10 days. The assessment is an important step and involves the worker reviewing any assessments done by DYFS, discussing the case with the DYFS worker, and then visiting with the family. This process is to determine goals and needs of the family, as well as the program's capacity to deliver adequate services within 6 months. The family is involved in the development of the treatment plan and is asked to sign off on the assessment. The written plan that includes a family's goals, objectives, and interventions is completed within 14 days. Every effort is made to begin serving a family as quickly as possible.

2.2 Staffing and Services

The central region NPSP staff consists of a director, supervisor, and workers. There are currently two full-time caseworkers and a part-time intern for the program. Each caseworker carries a caseload of five to seven families, and the intern carries three cases. The program director also personally handles one or two cases in order to keep abreast of the specific problems that workers encounter with families.

Caseworkers work a flexible schedule to better accommodate the needs of families, including working in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate client's schedules, visitations, or other needs. Workers also carry cell phones to keep in contact with DYFS workers and their families. To reward staff for going beyond the call of duty, incentives are given. For example, workers may receive a 3-day weekend for working extra hours during a holiday break.

NPSP caseworkers report to the program supervisor.(8) The NPSP supervisor has weekly meetings with her workers to discuss the problems and needs of cases. In addition to managing the workers, the supervisor works with the DYFS RDSs throughout the central region and oversees the referral process. The current program supervisor previously worked for DYFS for 25 years. This gives her a particularly keen insight into working with the DYFS system.

NPSP services are distributed over a very wide geographical area within the central region. The counties in the central region vary in size and population density. Consequently, each county is different in the amount of resources available to families. Despite this irregularity, NPSP workers are diligent at trying to find resources and services to meet their clients' needs. To their benefit, Catholic Charities in the region is within a large diocese that has excellent contacts and relationships and is able to marshal a lot of resources. Despite this advantage, a great deal of footwork is done in coordination with the DYFS worker, to find available resources to serve families.

The services provided by NPSP are family-focused, with emphasis on serving the parent. Emphasis is on trying to support the parents and helping them to understand the importance of meeting goals and requirements for reunification and to maintain their children at home. On average, families receive 5-7 hours of in-home services each week. Services are provided for 4-6 months. Generally, cases receive services for the full six months, but occasionally the family situation allows NPSP to close the case early. On occasion, cases may receive services beyond the 6-month time period, though this takes place only if NPSP staff believe it is necessary for successful reunification. Rather than extend services, the preference is to connect the family with community services and resources to meet the family's needs. The NPSP administrator we spoke to said that 6 months is not a great deal of time for families to be successful, and for some cases there is a need for continued services.

NPSP staff understand how important it is to lay a foundation for building a solid relationship with the parents and family, and that some families may have suspicions about the program due to the intensity of its services. NPSP caseworkers have the flexibility to begin slowly with a family and gradually build a relationship with them. When that relationship is established, workers then increase the number of hours spent with the family in their home, and then gradually taper off the service hours later, to allow the family to gain more independence.

Families receiving NPSP services can also receive services through their DYFS workers at the same time. NPSP services may be provided directly by the NPSP worker or through referral to another agency. NPSP is considered an intermediate intensive family reunification program. The services provided in the NPSP are not as intensive as might be provided by the family preservation program (where workers have only two cases per worker and provide more hours of services for a shorter period of time); however, the NPSP does provide more intense services than parents would receive through DYFS traditional reunification services.

Parents receive support as well as clinical and concrete services to ensure successful treatment, achievement of goals necessary for reunification, and a successful transition for reunification. Workers begin by contacting the family by phone and setting up an appointment to visit them in their home. If possible, the NPSP worker likes the DYFS case worker to attend the initial visit to bridge the client's transition into the new program and help the family to know that NPSP is important to enable them to meet their goals.

The NPSP worker talks with the family to see what types of services the family thinks are necessary. The worker we spoke with tries to use solution-focused therapy during this time with the family, to get an idea of the problems the family identifies and believes they need to work on. The NPSP worker conducts this visit, recalls the background information she has learned from the DYFS worker, and puts all of this information together to assist in the development of a treatment plan that outlines goals and objectives and the interventions needed for the family to reach their goals.

NPSP workers see their role with the family involving both case management and clinical assistance, though the worker we spoke with believes her role is more clinical in that she works primarily to support the family, help parents manage their children's behavior problems, and teach parenting. She believes her biggest role is to support the parent and encourage him or her, reminding the parent of what needs to be achieved to successfully reunify with their child. She said she is open with her clients and asks them to likewise be open with her so that if a parent has any concerns during services, he or she feels comfortable discussing those concerns with her. She also believes that working with the family in the home establishes a relationship that makes a big difference in the parent's comfort level with her and in her ability to see the progress of family functioning on a daily basis. This is definitely a benefit, in her mind, in shaping the cooperation and attitude of the parent. When a client only receives services in the agency office, the attitude and demeanor of the parent can be very different, and this can make reaching that parent more difficult.

Clinical services and support provided by the NPSP workers include behavior modeling, mentoring, coaching, advocacy, and family counseling. Examples of mentoring and support may include the worker observing or assisting with visitations, helping the parent register the child for school, and attending the first school conference with the parent. Workers also help parents with concrete factors like finding adequate housing, steady employment, child care, transportation to treatment and appointments, as well as helping with parenting skills, household budgeting, and household management.

Visitation between parent and child can be difficult, and the NPSP worker told us that prior to any parent-child visitation, she visits the family and meets with everyone involved to see what concerns or anxieties they have about visitations. She assists the parent in preparing for an upcoming visit by going over parenting issues; parenting rules, including how to be consistent with the child; and enforcing rules properly. She said it is important that parents know that rules need to be set with children and that there must be consequences to breaking rules. When the child comes home for his or her visit, the NPSP worker is there in the home to sit down with the child and parent and discuss the rules. She then observes the interaction between parent and child and spends particular time with the child to see how he or she is adjusting to the visit. She takes time to be with the child(ren) throughout the transition and is careful to follow family progress.

Substance abuse treatment may be provided concurrently with NPSP services. NPSP workers may provide transportation to drug treatment and also accompany the parents to treatment to demonstrate their support. After finishing substance abuse treatment, intensive services are provided to parents to prevent or reduce relapses. Comprehensive support services are then provided to facilitate preparation for reunification.

NPSP also provides a full-range of service to children in the program. Services provided directly to the child in the program include individual counseling, play therapy, monitoring of school progress, referral for psychological evaluation, and advocating for children at school when there are problems.

After providing services to a family for 3 months, the family is reassessed to determine whether the case goal should be changed. In the final assessment, DYFS staff are alerted to the needs of the child and family, and NPSP workers arrange to set up referrals to the appropriate after-services.

At the end of program, the family, NPSP worker and staff, and DYFS staff are involved in discharge planning. The NPSP worker and DYFS worker communicate what services need to be continued and arrange for follow-up services to support the family based on need. When cases close, NPSP workers set up a safety net for families they serve, connecting them with less intensive services in their community that will help the family after they leave the program, giving the family a resource to lean on when needed. After NPSP closes a case, it generally continues to be monitored by DYFS for another 3 to 6 months.

2.3 Relationship with Other Agencies

Communication between DYFS staff and the NPSP program staff is a big challenge for the program. DYFS and Catholic Charities appear to be taking this seriously and have established a number of key features to facilitate communication. NPSP and DYFS hold their regular staff planning sessions every 7 or 8 weeks to discuss problems and issues encountered between agencies or in serving families. These meetings have succeeded in identifying potential problems before they became real problems and in keeping communication open between the agencies. Moreover, DYFS RDSs, who are liaisons between DYFS and NPSP keep in touch with the NPSP supervisor to work out any problem situations encountered. And despite potential tensions between DYFS and NPSP workers, particularly given the high caseloads maintained by DYFS workers, both DYFS and NPSP workers find time to work together to locate the services and resources needed for families.

The NPSP workers and DYFS case managers try to meet quarterly to discuss their mutual cases. In addition, NPSP workers provide DYFS case managers with a written report on cases every month (30 days), and communicate with DYFS about their cases on an ongoing basis. The NPSP staff do their best to effectively communicate with DYFS workers and with RDSs.

Prior to ASFA, the courts seemed less likely to expedite cases and resign to permanency options other than reunification. Now, the courts are on board with the new timelines and are moving more quickly through the process of expediting permanency for children.

2.4 Barriers to Services and Reunification

Finding affordable and adequate housing is a major barrier for reunification of NPSP families, according to staff. Staff told us that housing in the state has become completely unaffordable for low-income families, if it is available at all. Substance abuse of the parent was also mentioned as an important barrier to reunification, due to the problems with finding services and then having the parent succeed without relapse within the time limits, despite reunification with the children.

Services in the region can vary widely by county. There are suburban/urban counties with adequate services, while many outlying or rural areas have very few services available. Transportation can also be an important problem. The NPSP workers can help by offering transportation with staff cars for some clients, but with so few workers and such a large area, they cannot always be available to transport clients to all services and appointments.

In addition, NPSP caseworkers mentioned ethnic and cultural practices, language, relationship problems between parent and teen child, and scarcity of services in some outlying rural areas as barriers to service delivery. One unique barrier to serving some NPSP clients is the family's apprehension that program staff will "preach" to them because services are provided by Catholic Charities.

Another issue the caseworkers discussed was the variation in attitude of the families toward the program. They have clients who are eager for services, some who are less receptive to services, and some families who do not want them in their home. The workers have found and understand that it is difficult for people to let workers into their home, particularly when they do not know them well or trust them. Therefore, when NPSP services begin, workers may not insist on meeting the client in their home but instead may meet a parent at a restaurant or other public place. Workers believe part of their job is to reach out and build a foundation with families so they can feel comfortable with services. Moreover, it can be particularly difficult when working with parents who do not have a stable home or are homeless.

2.5 Program Success

There seemed to be consensus among program staff that NPSP has been successful and that continuation and expansion of the program would be beneficial. One administrator voiced the need for a systematic evaluation or follow-up of the long-term effects of this program. At present, only short-term monitoring is taking place. Another recommendation made by program staff was that the salaries of the NPSP workers be increased. Workers make a significant commitment to the program and are a key reason for success. Also more in-depth training for NPSP staff, including high-level supervisors, was suggested.

The contract supervisor and administrator reported that the contractors for NSPS are evaluated on the basis of performance outcomes. Agencies are expected to achieve reunification rates of 60-65 percent and attain stable living arrangements for reunified families. In fact, the Catholic Charities agencies are achieving reunification rates higher than expected (70-75%). These rates are commendable though perhaps not unexpected since the purpose of NPSP is to bridge a child's reintroduction into the home and parents are generally motivated to reunify.

Two other measures are also used to measure contract performance -- caseworkers are surveyed for their satisfaction with the outcome of services provided to families by this program, and information is reviewed on the percentage of workers using the teach and model behavior management techniques. The administrators have been pleased with the outcomes of these two measures, and according to the contract administrator, the contract has gone beyond the standard requirements.

The contract administrators we spoke to told us that the factors responsible for success of the NPSP include the deep commitment of the workers to empower and teach parents to be advocates for their children, the stability of the staff attributed to more experienced workers employed by the program from its inception, maintaining regular contact with families knowing and addressing specific needs of the parents and children, and the excellent communication and relationships developed between program staff and DYFS regional and district office staff.

To continue the success of the NPSP, the program director suggested raising salaries of workers to levels that are commensurate with their experience and abilities; educate community resource contacts about the NPSP program and generally publicize the program in the region; and provide more training of NPSP staff regarding substance abusing families, in terms of assisting those parents in becoming more amenable for reunification with their children.

2.6 Funding

The original NPSP contract was from April 1999 through December 1999. The annualized funding for the cost reimbursement contract is approximately $94,000. The funding comes from the Governor's Foster Care and Permanency Initiative, funded entirely with state money. NPSP does not expect to receive any increase in funding when the contract is renewed for 2001. All sources we spoke to indicated this was not due to lack of performance by the program but a decision to keep the program status quo at this time.

3. Conclusion

Several factors make NPSP stand out among reunification services in New Jersey. First is the parent and family focus of the program, distinct from the trend toward child-focused and child-protection focused reunification services. The primary goal of the NPSP is to help parents understand the importance of meeting goals and requirements to get their children home and keep them at home. It seems that the program understands clearly that in order to reunite a child with his or her parent, it is essential to make sure the parent receives services and support to maintain the family. Workers succeed in this by providing quality, one-on-one, in-home work with the parent and family members.

NPSP has a unique understanding of the significance of the relationship between parent and worker. NPSP staff realize the importance of building trust with a parent and that this trust may come slowly, especially for parents who are suspicious of workers coming into their home. NPSP caseworkers work slowly with a family and gradually establish trust and a relationship with the parent and family that allows the worker to provide the necessary services for successful reunification. Then, as the parents meet goals, the worker gradually tapers off in-home service hours to allow the family to gain more independence.

NPSP takes a holistic approach to serving families: assessments are made to determine needs; workers coordinate with DYFS case managers to locate services and resources for a family; services are comprehensive to meet the needs of families; and workers provide hand-holding, support, and encouragement throughout the stages of reunification. One NPSP worker described the work as acting like an octopus - have many arms connecting the various service and support elements to a family.

Moreover, this level of provision of services could never be achieved without small caseload sizes. NPSP caseworkers carry five to seven cases, and although these cases may be dispersed geographically, the small caseload allows workers flexibility in serving families. Workers provide up to 7 hours of in-home services per week to each family. The flexibility and quality time with families allows workers to spend time facilitating visitation, provide transportation to treatment or job interviews, accompany parents to support meetings, or help parents register their children for school. NPSP staff know that getting the parent started on the right foot and continued support to a parent throughout the reunification transition can make all the difference in building confidence in parenting for a successful reunification. In addition, the relationship between DYFS and NPSP establishes a foundation for the program's success. DYFS and NPSP staff have open communication and work effectively to coordinate efforts for families.

In summary, the NPSP seems to fill an important niche in the continuum of services available in the central region of New Jersey. The alternative to NPSP is traditional services provided by DYFS workers which lack an intensive, holistic component for families. The NPSP offers flexibility, accessibility, intensive and supportive services, and small manageable caseloads. According to one member of the staff, these are the ingredients to make things happen.


1.  The Natural Parent Support Program is also called the Birth Parent Support Program in other regions of New Jersey,

2.  New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services. Foster Care. Retrieved on February 7, 2000, from the World Wide Web:

3.  Ibid.

4.  New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services. Foster Care. Retrieved on February 7, 2000, from the World Wide Web:

5.  National Center for Youth Law, Foster Care Reform Litigation Docket.2000. Retrieved on February 5, 2001, from the World Wide Web:

6.  Many children are placed through court order and have no informed consent contract.

7.  Monmouth County has two offices due to its large population.

8.  The only exceptions to this are the program director and a worker in Southern Monmouth County who is supervised by the program director.

Location- & Geography-Based Data
State Data