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