Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 6.2 The Kentucky Families


Table 6-1 summarizes certain characteristics of 311 Kentucky caretakers and families for which we have initial caretaker interviews (89% of the 349 net study cases). The respondents were primarily women (93%). Most (85%) of the respondents were birth mothers, 7 percent were biological fathers, 6 percent grandmothers, and the rest were other relatives, including one adoptive mother (for 6% the relationship to the child was not ascertained). The racial composition of the respondent group was mostly white (55%) and African American (not Hispanic) (43%), along with 1 percent Hispanic and 1 percent other. The average age of the respondents was 32 (n = 306, s.d. = 9.49). Nine percent of the respondents had less than a high school level education, 44 percent had some high school, 32 percent had graduated from high school or obtained a GED, 14 percent had at least some college education, and 1 percent had special education or vocational schooling. Approximately 24 percent of the respondents indicated they were married, 19 percent divorced, 21 percent separated, 3 percent widowed, and 33 percent never married.3 Thirty-five percent reported that they were living with a spouse or partner. At the time of the first interview, 38 percent of the respondents indicated they were employed, 29 percent were unemployed and looking for work, and 33 percent were unemployed and not looking for work.4 Overall, 83 percent of the respondents rented their homes. Respondents in the experimental group were more likely to rent their homes than those in the control group (89% vs. 77%, p = .005). Provided with a list of income categories, respondents were asked to approximate their household incomes. Of the 300 respondents who answered the question, 15 percent reported an income less than $5,000, 23 percent between $5,000 and $10,000, 43 percent between $10,000 and $20,000, 16 percent between $20,000 and $40,000, and 3 percent reported an income of $40,000 or more. There were no significant differences between experimental and control group respondents in reported household income.

Table 6-1.
Description of the Kentucky families at time of initial interviews
  N %
Gender of Caretaker/Respondent 311  
Male   6.8
Female   93.2
Race of Caretaker/Respondent 310   
African American (not Hispanic)   43
Caucasian (not Hispanic)   55
Hispanic   1
Other   1
Respondent's education level 311  
Elementary school or less   9
Some high school   44
High school graduate or obtained GED   32
College   14
Special education or vocational schooling   1
Respondent's marital status 310  
Married   24
Divorced   19
Separated   21
Widowed   3
Never Married   33
Respondent's Relationship to youngest child 292  
Birth mother   85
Biological father   6.5
Grandmother   5.8
Other relative   2.4
Household composition 311  
Birth mother, no other adults   43
Birth mother& 1 male adult   24
Birth mother& extended family*   9.3
Biological father*   6.1
Other relative caretaker*   7.4
Other**   10
  N Mean
Age of respondent 306 32.2
Age of youngest child 311 4.6
Age of oldest child 311 9.9
Number of Children 311 3.0
Number of adults 311 1.6

* These categories may also include other non-related adults in the home

** Includes: nonrelative caretaker, adoptive or step-parent, birth mother& non-related females, or birth mother, and more than one non-related male

On average, these families were comprised of 1.6 adults and 3 children for an overall average family size of 4.6 persons. The average age of the youngest child in the family was 4.6 years (n = 311, s.d. = 4.35), and the average age of the oldest child in the family was 9.9 years (n = 311, s.d. = 5.00). The distribution of the age of the youngest child was 19 percent under 1 year, 42 percent between 1 and 4, 33 percent between 5 and 12, and 6 percent 13 and over. The distribution of the age of the oldest child was 3 percent under 1 year, 16 percent 1 to 4, 42 percent between 5 and 12, and 39 percent 13 and over.

While there were no significant differences between families in the experimental and control groups with regard to total number of persons, number of children in the home, or ages of youngest and oldest child in the home,5 there was a statistically significant difference in the number of adults in the home. The control group averaged 1.7 adults per household (n = 155) whereas the experimental group averaged 1.5 adults per household (n = 156; p = .012). Respondents were also asked to provide information regarding the relationship of other adults in the home relative to the youngest child in the home. This information was then used to determine household composition for these families. Forty-three percent of households were headed by a single birth mother, 24 percent had a birth mother residing with one male adult, 9 percent had a birth mother and extended family, 6 percent were headed by a biological father, and 17 percent were headed by another relative caretaker.

Family Problems. We can get some sense of the difficulties families faced from the first interviews with caretakers, in which we asked whether they had experienced certain problems in the last month (see Table 6-2). In Kentucky there were few significant differences on these items between the experimental and control groups at the initial interview. With regard to emotional problems, 55 percent of the respondents reported feeling "blue or depressed,"56 percent reported feeling nervous or tense, 47 percent were overwhelmed by work or family responsibilities, 31 percent said they had just wanted to give up at some point in the last month, and 30 percent felt they had few or no friends. With regard to financial difficulties, 49 percent responded that in the past month they did not feel they had enough money for food, rent, or clothing. In response to more specific questions about difficulties paying bills in the past 3 months, 24 percent reported difficulty paying rent, 32 percent reported difficulty paying electric or heating bills, 23 percent difficulty buying food for the family, and 31 percent difficulty buying clothes for their children.6

Table 6-2
Caretaker problems and strengths, caretaker initial interview, Kentucky
Problems Percent responding yes
Felt blue or depressed 55
Felt nervous or tense 56
Just wanted to give up 31
Overwhelmed with work or family responsibility 47
Felt you had few or no friends 30
Not enough money for food, rent, or clothing 49
Gotten in trouble with the law 7
Had too much to drink in a week 3
Used drugs several times a week 1
Economic Items
Had difficulty paying rent 24
Had difficulty paying electric/heat 32
Had difficulty buying enough food 23
Had difficulty buying clothes 31
Positive Items
Have you felt happy 82
Gotten together with anyone to have fun/relax 53
Doing a pretty good job raising kids 90

Three percent of respondents acknowledged having too much to drink several times a week, and 1 percent reported using drugs several times a week. Seven percent of respondents indicated they had gotten in trouble with the law in the past month.7

Most (90%) respondents felt they were "doing a pretty good job raising [their] kids"(94% of the experimental group, compared to 86 percent of the control group, a difference significant at p = .02).

Table 6-3 shows problems of children identified by caretakers. Over four-fifths of caretakers said at least one child in the family threw tantrums and about the same proportion said a child "didn't show much interest in what is going on." Over two-thirds said a child "gets upset easily." Items identifying difficulties in school were endorsed by a quarter to a third of respondents (frequent absences, suspension, failed classes). Aggressive behavior was a fairly common problem, a third of the caretakers said a child fights a lot with other kids and 43 percent said a child was very aggressive toward them.

Caretaker Abuse or Neglect as a Child. When asked two separate questions about whether they had been abused or neglected as a child, 31 percent of the 311 initial interview respondents reported having been abused and 20 percent neglected. Sixteen percent responded affirmatively to both questions, and overall, 35 percent of the caretakers reported having either been abused, neglected, or both as a child. Eighteen percent of caretakers had been in a foster home or institution. Experimental and control groups did not differ significantly with respect to these previous experiences.

Previous Allegations and Placement. Historical reports of maltreatment and of placement in substitute care were available from the administrative data files. Two hundred and ninety-five (96%) of the Kentucky families had been investigated for maltreatment prior to random assignment. Two hundred and thirty-six (77%) of the families had experienced at least one substantiated8 allegation prior to random assignment. The administrative files reported five types of allegations; dependency, emotional, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual maltreatment. The allegation just prior to random assignment was of primary interest. This particular allegation provides some indication of reason for referral to family preservation. The distribution of last allegation prior to random assignment is: 34 percent dependency, 5 percent emotional, 32 percent neglect, 44 percent physical abuse, and 24 percent sexual maltreatment. The distribution of last substantiated allegation prior to random assignment is as follows: 34 percent dependency, 3 percent emotional, 34 percent neglect, 41 percent physical, and 19 percent sexual maltreatment. As individual families can have multiple allegations on any given day, percentages add to more than 100 percent. In 68 cases (29% of the 236), the only substantiated allegation just prior to random assignment was dependency. Hence, there were a substantial number of cases referred for family preservation services in which it appears that abuse or neglect were not major issues.

Table 6-3.
Concerns and problems regarding children,
Caretaker Initial Interview, Kentucky

(% responding yes regarding any child that the respondent cares for)


N %
Asked about all children...
Child went through alcohol withdrawal at birth 309 2
Child went through drug withdrawal when born 309 2
Child doesn't show much interest in what is going on 308 84
Child is Smaller/Lighter than other children 308 29
Child Get(s) upset easily 303 69
Asked for children over 3 months old...
Is/Are Funny and makes you laugh 303 95
Like(s) to share things with others 296 70
Throw(s) tantrums 302 83
Is/Are shy and withdrawn 302 24
Is/Are outgoing and friendly 298 85
Is/Are good looking 297 99
Fight(s) a lot with other kids 289 33
Has/Have language problems 286 30
Asked for children over 4 years old...
Is/Are very aggressive toward you 247 43
Has/Have a special talent in music 232 32
Like(s) animals 248 95
Is/Are good at sports 204 51
Usually does the right thing 241 74
Hangs with friends you don't like 243 28
In the past 3 months has any child you care for...
Gone to church regularly 247 34
Been absent from school a lot 240 38
Run away from home overnight 240 10
Been temporarily suspended from school 240 30
Been expelled from school 239 11
Taken care of younger children 220 40
Took something that didn't belong 245 34
Absent from school/no good reason 238 30
Received special education at school 241 40
Failed any classes 237 27
Received counseling 245 61
Asked for any child over age 7...
In the last 3 months, has any child been arrested 197 13
Asked only for children over age 10...
Has child age 11 or older had alcohol problems 141 4
Has child age 11 or older had a drug problem 138 7
Has any girl age 12 to 18 been pregnant 82 12
Has any boy age 14 to 18 fathered a child 53 6

The above data describe the allegations that may be considered to be associated with the current involvement of the family with the child welfare system. The administrative data can also be used to explore the extent of prior involvement with the system. Of the 295 Kentucky families with at least one allegation prior to random assignment, 139 (47%) had a substantiated report of maltreatment prior to the allegation just before referral to family preservation.

Regarding substitute care placement, 124 children in 53 (17%) families had experienced placement prior to random assignment.9 The administrative files contained placement dates for 123 of these 124 children. On average, 20.2 months elapsed between the last day of care and random assignment. In the placement spell just prior to random assignment the average length of time in substitute care was 5.9 months.10

Length of Time from Case Opening to Referral to Family Preservation Services. The Kentucky administrative data also contained information about case opening and closing dates. In Kentucky, opening and closing data are recorded at the individual rather than family level, and the dates of opening and closing for various members of a family may differ. Our analyses, however, were conducted at the family level. We considered a case open from the date of the first open record for any person in the family to the time that the last record for any person in the family had been closed out. In other words, the opening and closing data described here refer to periods of time during which DSS was involved with at least one person in the family. It should also be noted that in Kentucky a family does not necessarily need an open record in order to receive services, as services or referrals for services may be provided by the investigating worker prior to opening the case. Presumably, such cases should be opened shortly after referrals for services. With this in mind, cases were examined for the date of case opening or the date of the last maltreatment report, both of which may indicate DSS involvement in that case.

Of the 307 cases for which administrative data were available, 183 (60%) were open at the time of the referral to family preservation services. An additional 89 cases were not open at the time of referral to FPS, but had had a prior maltreatment report (15 of these cases had been open previously). In 59 of the 272 cases open at the time of referral or with prior maltreatment reports, the most recent case opening or maltreatment report occurred over six months prior to referral, in 34 cases, over a year prior. Appendix G provides a more detailed breakdown of case openings and maltreatment reports as well as the timing of these events in relation to the referral to family preservation services.

Social Program Participation. In the initial interview, respondents were asked whether they or anyone else in the household had participated in various social programs within the past 3 months. The overall rates of participation by Kentucky families are provided in Table 6-4. Over two-thirds indicated that they received food stamps, just under half received AFDC, more than a third received WIC, about a third received social security disability,11 and just under a fifth received a housing voucher. Overall, respondents indicated that they participated in an average of 2.1 of the 5 income support programs listed (s.d. = 1.36) and 82 percent of the sample participated in at least one of the five programs.12 Differences in the rates of program participation were found for WIC and community mental health programs, with both programs showing higher rates of participation among the experimental group. Forty-eight percent of the experimental group reported WIC participation within the last 3 months compared to 34 percent of the control group (p = .01) and 16 percent of respondents in the experimental group reported participation in community mental health programs compared to 9 percent of respondents in the control group (p = .04). Reports of participation in alcoholism, drug treatment, marriage counseling, and job training programs were less than 10 percent for each. Slightly less than a third of the sample reported participation in Head Start or another pre-school program.

Table 6-4.
Participation in social programs prior to initial interview,
Program Percent %
Food Stamps 67
Job Training 7
WIC 41
Housing Vouchers 18
Social Security Disability 36
Alcoholism Program 6
Drug Treatment Program 1
Marriage Counseling 5
Community Mental Health program 12
Head Start/Pre-school 30

(3) When married, divorced, and separated categories are collapsed and compared to never married, a larger percentage of respondents in the experimental group were never married, 40% vs. 28%, p = .04 (8 widowed respondents and 1 not ascertained respondent are not included in these collapsed analyses).

(4) When the 2 unemployed categories are collapsed and compared to the employed category, a larger percentage of respondents in the control group were employed at the time of the first interview, 43% vs. 33%, p = .12. 

(5) Though not a statistically significant difference, the average age of the oldest child was greater for control group families than for experimental group families, 10.31 years vs. 9.42 years, p = .13. 

(6) More of the experimental group respondents indicated difficulty buying clothes for their children, 35% vs. 27%, p = .16. 

(7) Experimental group caretakers were more likely to answer that a child or children they care for went through alcohol or drug withdrawal when born.

(8) The state of Kentucky reports five possible outcomes for reports of maltreatment; (1) substantiated, (2) found/substantiated, (3) some indication, (4) unsubstantiated and (5) unable to locate. Substantiated and found/substantiated were collapsed to form a "substantiated" category. 

(9) Our analyses did not include children inplacement at the time of random assignment. 

(10) Placement spells are defined as any consecutive period of time in substitute care and may consist of several distinct placements (i.e., several different foster homes).

(11) The question on the interview was worded in terms of "social security disability." We intended this to refer to Supplemental Security Income. 

(12) The average number of income support programs used was slightly higher for the experimental group than for the control group, 2.21 vs. 1.98, p = .13.