Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System: The New Jersey Natural Parent Support Program . 2.1 Target Population, Eligibility, and Referral

12/01/2001

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.