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