Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 5.4 Implementing the Evaluation


Having a well-established statewide program, Tennessee was one of the original sites considered for study participation. This site was selected as it met all study selection criteria – a well-defined, mature program using a relatively pure version of the Homebuilders model.

Site visits were conducted and state office administrators were very interested in participating in the study, with trepidation about a randomized experiment, the impending reorganization of state services for children, and whether or not the state would be in compliance with the “reasonable effort” requirement of Title IVB. Additional meetings were held with state and local personnel to address concerns and to explain the dimensions of the study.

Usual referral procedures in Tennessee included referring workers learning of an opening in family preservation or waiting to refer a case until an opening existed. If a worker learned a program was full, he or she might ask when an opening was expected, leading to cases being held until an opening occured. To address concerns about random assignment, it was suggested that since not all cases could be served and since it was largely a chance matter whether or not a case received services, random assignment might be just as ethical as the current procedure.

Random assignment was eventually agreed to, but not without major objections. One concern was whether or not the state was in compliance with “reasonable efforts” requirements to provide services necessary to prevent foster care placement. It was believed by agency staff that family preservation was the best way to prevent foster care placement. After conversations with the federal government, it was determined that random assignment did not prohibit efforts to keep children out of foster care and the state would not be out of compliance with “reasonable effort” requirements.

State and local personnel indicated that targeting was a concern, families currently being referred for family preservation were not necessarily those at imminent risk of placement and that there were many eligible families not being referred for services. To address these concerns, training was conducted to help tighten the screening and referral of families to family preservation. The state family preservation coordinator developed training materials to review appropriate cases for referrals to the HomeTies program. Prior to the study beginning a one day training was held with the entire CPS and HomeTies staff in Shelby County. Study procedures were presented at the same training. There were plans to have training “tune-ups” throughout the study but these did not occur.