The site selection process began with a discussion with personnel in potential sites of the issues and criteria surrounding site selection. The task of applying these criteria to real programs began a process of reconciling the differences between our hope of finding optimal sites and program and practice realities. We initially identified potential states and counties for the study through review of state plans, contacts with experts in the field, reviews of the literature, and previous studies conducted by the research team. Based on this review, we contacted 26 states and asked them about their family preservation and reunification programs with respect to our criteria for selection.
A list of programs and counties contacted is presented in Appendix A. Results of the telephone conversations with these sites were presented in the Review of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs. Based on responses to the telephone conversations and extensive discussion among research team members and the advisory panel, we eliminated a number of states or particular counties within states from consideration.
To obtain more detailed information about states, site visits were necessary. As we were unable to conduct site visits to all identified states, we established two levels of site visits. The first level targeted states that had some of the best and most mature programs in the country: Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Washington. Project staff conducted 3 to 5 day site visits at the state level and in those local jurisdictions that might be included in the study. The visits included meetings with administrative, supervisory, and casework staff at the state and local levels of the public child welfare agency. We also conducted interviews with administrators and caseworkers of the local family preservation agencies. Through the interviews, we gathered information about family preservation services and the context in which the services were being delivered. States’ interest in the study and their ability to meet selection criteria were also explored. We then conducted further site visits in Tennessee, Oregon, California, Florida, New York, and Ohio.1 Our emphasis was on selecting quality programs and those with characteristics useful for the development of knowledge (e.g., serving clientele with substance abuse problems). It was decided to evaluate three programs that reported using relatively “pure” versions of the Homebuilders model of service. The sites selected were Memphis, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; and seven counties in New Jersey. These three sites met the original criteria set forth by contract requirements and also incorporated the other issues identified as important. All three sites identified a targeting problem and were interested in implementing targeting strategies, had a long and positive history of providing quality Homebuilders’s programs, had a limited number of providers, and had adequate support for the program in the responsible public agency. Also, all the sites identified a pool of families who were eligible for the services but not receiving them and had sufficient numbers to reach study sample size requirements (or agreed to continue the study for more than a year, if necessary).
For the fourth site, our efforts turned to identifying a non-Homebuilders-based family preservation program which was well defined and able to articulate its goals and objectives. While the study team visited Philadelphia to explore its reunification programs, its family preservation program was also presented as an option. The program has many interesting and policy relevant elements. The family preservation programs in Philadelphia are based on specialization, and the county has a strong focus on serving families with substance abuse problems. Philadelphia County represents a site in which the goal of family preservation services is defined more broadly than placement prevention, allowed comparison of family preservation services to less intensive in-home services, and has some agencies with an explicit focus on substance abuse. These criteria lent themselves to the selection of Philadelphia for the fourth site.
This report focuses on the initial findings from Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee. The Philadelphia findings will be presented at a later date.
1 The Family Preservation and Family Support Implementation Study was selecting sites at the same time. It was decided that conducting both studies in the same site would be too burdensome for states: therefore, Alabama, Arizona, Texas, and Los Angeles. California were eliminated as candidates for the second round of site visits.