Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 4.2.1 Referral Process


Although decisions to refer families are made by the worker and supervisor, workers do not directly refer cases to family preservation programs. Each county has an appointed DYFS screener. All referrals to FPS must be made through the DYFS screener in the designated county. The screener makes referrals to the FPS program when slots are available and maintains a log of unmet need, when no slots are available at time of referral. The screener monitors the referral process, making sure that the referring worker has completed all necessary forms and processes. When a vacancy becomes available in the FPS program, the screener makes a referral on a first-come first-serve basis. Consistent with the criterion of imminent risk, DYFS policy precludes keeping a waiting list for service.

The DYFS referral process allows a DYFS worker to respond immediately to the service needs of a family with a child at risk of placement. Before referring for FPS, the worker must:

  • Determine that the family has children at imminent risk of placement;
  • Conduct an assessment in a face-to-face interview within 3-5 days prior to the referral;
  • Discuss the availability of the FPS services with the family to assess their likely interest and willingness to participate;
  • Determine that the children's safety is not at risk, if left in the home;
  • Determine that other less intense services have been used, have not reduced the imminent risk or are not appropriate or not available.3

The worker first presents the recommendations to her or his supervisor and then, if approved by the supervisor, to the screener for referral.

DYFS has decided that FPS should be used cautiously for three populations that require specialized resources: homeless families, out-of-county residents, and families with identified substance abuse problems. These special circumstances must be considered during this assessment by the caseworker. Families that are homeless and living in a shelter can be considered on a case-by-case basis. Families that move across county lines are eligible for FPS in their county of residence. Referral can be made by a caseworker in the former county to the screener in the new county. Similarly, there are limits on services to families with substance abuse problems. The policy suggests that it is unlikely that a substance problem can be resolved in a 5-6 week period. FPS can be used in these cases to help with parenting skills and to provide coordination with the treatment program.4

Targeting of Referrals. FPS in New Jersey was initially intended to enhance the continuum of services available for adolescents. In the last few years, the state has encouraged a shift in the focus of their targeting to families with young children. FPS is designed to work with families with children at imminent risk of placement in order to prevent unnecessary placement. As stated in the FPS manual, given that each county's caseloads and placement options vary, discussion should outline the types of families considered to be at imminent risk of placement.5 Final decisions concerning policy related to FPS are made jointly by the FPS providers and DYFS.

According to state legislation, FPS is targeted at families with substantiated abuse or neglect, where the children are at risk of harm from maltreatment. Referrals from non-DYFS sources must have risk of placement, but do not require confirmed abuse or neglect. The state defines three levels of eligibility for targeting purposes:

  • Level one includes families with at least one child at imminent risk of placement, unless changes in family coping or behavior patterns occur, placement will occur or there is one child in temporary placement less than thirty days.
  • Level two includes families where at least one child is in a temporary placement and was in a placement for less than ninety days in the past or at least one child who is living at home and who was previously in placement for no more than six months or at least one child who is living at home and who has been in a previous shelter, detention, or foster home placement of any kind for any duration.
  • Level three includes families preparing for reunification where a child is currently in placement and is expected to reunite within seven days regardless of the length of time the child has been in placement.

These broad and overlapping criteria for targeting allow individual counties the flexibility to look very different from the state legislative vision.

County practices certainly varied from this model. Workers interviewed from our seven study counties presented several alternatives. In most counties the major types of referrals are ongoing cases, cases in which workers have worked with the family for many months or years. A worker has to demonstrate that many alternative services have been offered. This so-called three-service rule, in practice, often discourages workers from making a referral to FPS until very late into the life of the case. For many families, workers seemed to consider FPS because it was the only option of service left to offer a family in long-term cases. For example, in Bergen County, the screener reported that traditionally only a small percentage of cases originated from intake. She estimated that only 30% of cases result from recent incidents of maltreatment. Across the seven study counties, 50 percent of the cases were from investigating workers. A statewide referral form was used in all counties, (see Appendix F).

According to Statewide guidelines, counties cannot maintain waiting lists for FPS service. However, DYFS screeners are permitted to maintain a list of “chronic families” who might benefit from FPS service if a vacancy occurs. In practice, the distinction between this list and a waiting list is trivial and was difficult to distinguish in interviews with county staff. One county clearly reported the use of a waiting list, particularly for families with adolescents with behavior problems. The children were temporarily maintained in their homes, often using homemaker services, until a FPS vacancy occurred. Workers indicated that being on the waiting list provided relief to the stressed caretaker, knowing that intensive FPS service would eventually become available.

Sources of Referrals. DYFS is the primary funder of FPS in New Jersey. DYFS screeners are the only authorized individuals who can make referrals to the contracted FPS provider in each county. While DYFS is the primary referral source, in some counties, referrals can also be made by other sources. In 1996 the breakdown of referral was 73 percent from DYFS and the remaining referrals from the following sources.

  • Family Court: About eight percent of the referrals came from Family Court and were comprised of voluntary requests for family preservation services from families ordered directly by a judge;
  • County Crisis Intervention Units (CIU's): This is a delinquency diversion program which works primarily with unadjudicated teens and comprised about 12 percent of the referrals;
  • Children's Crisis Intervention Services (CCIS): This is a diversion service provided by the Division of Mental Health and was responsible for about 4 percent of the referrals; and
  • Other: The remaining three percent of the referrals were made by other sources. The main source was The Case Assessment Resource Team (CART). The CART is an interdisciplinary team including DYFS and other state agencies to prevent teens from being placed in out-of-state residential treatment facilities and works towards returning those teens that are placed out-of-state.

The non-DYFS referrals must be made through the screener. DYFS cases and families known to DYFS get priority, if a vacancy is available in the program.

The table below (Table 4-2) shows the number of referrals and percentage of referrals that come from DYFS as a referral source. “N/A” means the program was not yet in operation. The new programs that began in FY1996 (Hunterdon, Middlesex, Ocean, Somerset and Warren) serve only DYFS cases. Bergen County, one of the earlier programs, also serves only DYFS cases.

Table 4-2
Number and percentage of DYFS referrals to FPS by County for FY 1994-1996
  FY1997 FY1996 FY1995 FY1994
Atlantic 45 68.9 64 46.9 66 33.3 67 29.9
Bergen* 103 100 109 100 110 100 100 100
Burlington* 105 73.3 88 80.7 78 55.1 94 56.4
Camden* 83 66.3 83 61.4 159 58.5 226 52.7
Cape May 54 74.1 51 74.5 60 56.7 59 55.9
Cumberland 145 93.1 150 74.7 119 68.1 122 57.4
Essex* 214 71.0 166 73.5 229 52.4 161 67.1
Gloucester 38 50.0 47 36.2 70 22.9 94 28.7
Hudson 194 73.2 151 67.5 179 57.0 129 76.7
Hunterdon 40 100 21 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mercer 93 89.2 95 72.6 108 50.0 125 48.8
Middlesex 107 100 85 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Monmouth* 97 74.2 88 71.6 110 57.3 100 79.0
Morris 95 67.4 84 73.8 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Ocean* 56 100 53 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Passaic* 82 86.6 103 59.2 113 56.6 99 61.6
Salem 68 94.1 71 88.7 76 64.5 81 59.3
Somerset 40 100 23 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Sussex 60 48.3 37 70.3 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Union 79 86.1 126 47.6 140 26.4 167 49.7
Warren 43 100.0 36 100 N/A N/A N/A N/A
TOTAL 1841 81.0 1731 73.6 1617 55.0 1624 59.2
* Evaluation Sites

As can be seen from the above table, there is considerable variation in the proportion of cases coming from DYFS. Looking at the evaluation sites (marked with *), Passaic County increased from 59.2% in FY 1994 to 86.6% in FY 1997 of cases documented as DYFS referrals. In actual numbers, this is reflected by a major reduction in non-DYFS referrals in Passaic County from 42 in FY1996 to 10 in FY97.

Counties also developed separately funded FPS programs for targeted populations. Essex had a second FPS program specifically funded for boarder baby referrals. Monmouth and Burlington Counties also reported the funding of additional slots specifically for the Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU) used primarily by the court.

3 DYFS Referral Handout for Casework Staff, 1996.

NJ FPS Standards Manual, Chapter 3, page 2.

5 NJ FPS Standards Manual, Chapter 6, page 13.