Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Final Report - Volume One. 4.5.1 Feedback From Counties Post-Random Assignment.

12/01/2002

Interviews were conducted with DYFS district office staff and FPS staff in three participating counties in the spring of 1998. The perceptions of staff regarding random assignment for the evaluation, changes in referrals to FPS during and after the evaluation, effects of the study, and the outcome of FPS were discussed.

DYFS and FPS staff believed that referrals to FPS increased after random assignment ended. Camden reported that new referrals increased from four cases per month in the fall of 1997 to seven cases per month in the spring of 1998 after random assignment ended. In fact, they began keeping a waiting list. Similarly, DYFS staff from Ocean claimed they had used a waiting list prior to the study and following the completion of random assignment they returned to using a waiting list and a triage procedure instead of first-come, first-serve.

Most DYFS and FPS staff attributed a drop in referrals to the evaluation. Camden staff indicated that individual workers became frustrated if one of their referrals became a control case. In Camden, some units, as a whole, did not refer cases at all. Several FPS providers spoke of low contractual utilization during the year. In addition, both FPS and DYFS staff described some changes in the types of referrals. According to staff, reunification cases increased during the study. Many felt this was a response to the study once workers learned that reunification cases were excluded from random assignment. For example, one worker asked a screener to consider a case of reunification because the birth father had left the home and a goal of services was to reunite him with his spouse and children. In Camden, staff spoke of a new Juvenile Court Judge who was ordering an FPS referral for reunification cases. Although staff voiced much concern about the number of cases served, there was little fluctuation in the number served in FY 1996 through FY 1998 (Table 4-9).

Table 4-9
Number of Families Served by FPS, FY 1996 - FY 1998 by County
County FY 1996 FY 1997* FY 1998
Bergen 53 59 58
Burlington 48 54 47
Camden 57 69 51
Essex 82 73 84
Monmouth 54 56 53
Ocean 52 44 53
Passaic 52 50 51
*FY 1997 totals include booster cases, counted as 0.5 case.

Despite the state's emphasis on serving more young children in FPS cases, targeting of teen children was still frequent in every county. Two reasons were cited. First, placement resources are often limited or expensive for this group. Therefore, FPS is considered while a resource is located. Second, ongoing cases with teenagers often exhaust all community resources and FPS is considered as a last resort to help the family.

One FPS director described a change in referral type due to the lower utilization of services during the study period. The DYFS screener could refer cases of lower risk when vacancies remained open. The screener felt that the study caused a delay in the referral process and some workers were concerned about referring high-risk cases. (Random assignments were made at the time of the initial phone call by the screener.) Camden FPS staff also reported that they relaxed their turnback policy, keeping low risk cases to avoid extensive vacancies in their caseload.

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