Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Final Report - Volume One. 4.3.3 The New Jersey Family Preservation Services Targeting Referrals Project

12/01/2002

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 a 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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