Initial and subsequent meetings were held with supervisory and casework staff at both the county DYFS offices and the family preservation programs. Many concerns about the study and its impact on operations and service to families were discussed. The most unanimous concern in every DYFS office was the requirement for additional paperwork. Supervisors were concerned that requiring caseworkers to perform additional paperwork would be a barrier to participation. Study personnel agreed to modify procedures to minimize the burden on workers and to assure staff that paperwork would not be duplicative. Some counties agreed to consider using study forms as substitutes for existing forms.
Another common concern to both DYFS and FPS staff in all counties was the possibility of denial of service to families. The study design is based on the assumption that each participating county had a higher demand for service than the existing slots permitted. When asked by a DYFS administrator if they could fill an additional slot with families, every county screener said, "yes." The issue was most pressing in counties where a waiting list was kept. In Bergen, for example, workers spoke of promising families FPS when a slot was available. It was felt that the promise of future availability of service to a family with a troubled adolescent was an important incentive to a parent not to insist on placement of the child. DYFS staff acknowledged that a waiting list was not consistent with the imminent risk criterion of the FPS service.
Staff in many of the counties stated other concerns. DYFS workers, DYFS screeners, and FPS staff were concerned that the random assignment process would disrupt the relationship between DYFS and FPS staff. This was voiced for both counties with good and bad working relations. For counties with good working relationships, it was believed that the random assignment mechanism would interrupt the good communication between DYFS and FPS in regard to vacancies, case characteristics, and relaying of information. For counties where communication was already poor between DYFS and FPS personnel, it was felt that the study mechanisms would cause things to get worse.
In addition, DYFS supervisors were concerned that the random assignment process would interfere with the Title IV-A eligibility process. DYFS claimed a portion of FPS spending toward Emergency Assistance funding (EAF), under Title IV-A of the Social Security Act. Workers were required to have the family sign a IV-A eligibility form prior to referral to FPS. By getting the signature, workers begin the engagement process of getting a family ready to agree to participate in an intensive family service. Since workers could not know the results of random assignment until they returned to the office to make the referral, the workers felt they could be less forthright with families regarding the availability of the service. This appeared to be more an issue in counties such as Bergen and Monmouth, where the screeners prioritized cases for referral and did not seem to fully adhere to a first-come first service rule for cases.11
Several ongoing concerns were discussed during the meetings and continued to surface in discussions with staff during the course of the evaluation. These issues include:
- DYFS supervisors were concerned about whether the confidentiality of sensitive information about families would be maintained by the interviewers.
- The proposed screening tool was criticized for being too focused on child abuse and neglect issues. Many of the workers still considered the FPS service most appropriate for family problem cases, especially with adolescent issues. The screening tool was used in six of the experimental counties. The protocol was used during pre-placement conferences for only one county on a limited basis.
- DYFS workers and screeners were concerned that the referral process would cause delays and a reduction in referrals.
11 The eligibility form was phased out during the course of the evaluation, as a result of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) legislation signed by President Clinton in August 1996.