Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 6.3 The New Jersey Families


As in Kentucky, we describe the sample of New Jersey families based on information from our first interviews with caretakers (n = 328, 74% of the 442 net study cases). Again, we describe the sample as a whole, identifying the variables on which the experimental and control groups were statistically different.

Table 6-5 summarizes a number of characteristics of New Jersey caretakers and families. Most (88%) of the caretakers were women. The sample was about evenly divided between whites and African Americans. Forty-seven percent were white, 42 percent African American (not Hispanic), 9 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent other. On average there were 4.7 persons in these families, 1.8 adults and 2.9 children. The average age of the respondents was 39 (n = 324, s.d. = 10.8), the youngest child in the family was, on average, 7.1 years old (n = 328, s.d. = 5.4), and the oldest child in the family, 12.5 (n = 328, s.d. = 4.3). The distribution of the age of the youngest child was 15 percent under 1 year, 26 percent between 1 and 4, 37 percent between 5 and 12, and 23 percent 13 and over. The distribution of the age of the oldest child was 2 percent under 1 year, 5 percent 1 to 4, 30 percent between 5 and 12, and 63 percent 13 and over.

About 9 percent of the respondents had no high school education, 40 percent some high school, 26 percent high school graduation or a GED, 20 percent at least some college education, and 4 percent had special education or vocational schooling (0.9% were unknown). Thirty percent of the respondents were married, 34 percent divorced or separated, 6 percent widowed, and 30 percent never married. At the time of the first interview, 41 percent were employed, 18 percent reported that they were unemployed and looking for work, and 41 percent were unemployed and not looking for work. Two hundred ninety-one respondents provided information about their household incomes, with significant differences between the experimental and control groups (p = .03). Fewer control group cases were at the middle of the income spectrum.13

Most (71%) of the respondents were birth mothers, 10 percent were biological fathers, 11 percent grandmothers, and the rest were other relatives, including step-relatives. Four of the respondents were adoptive mothers and two were adoptive fathers. As to household composition at the time of the first interview, 34 percent of the families were headed by birth mothers with no other adults in the home, 27 percent had a birth mother and one male adult, 8 percent had the birth mother with other extended family, 9 percent were headed by a single father, and 17 percent had another relative caretaker (4% of the families did not fall into one of these categories). Forty-three percent reported that they were living with a spouse or partner. Seventy percent of the respondents rented their homes. On none of these characteristics did the experimental and control groups differ significantly at the time of the first interview.14

Table 6-5. 
Description of the New Jersey families
at time of initial interviews
  N %
Gender of Caretaker/Respondent 328  
Male   12
Female   88
Race of Caretaker/Respondent 327  
African American (not Hispanic)   42
Caucasian (not Hispanic)   47
Hispanic   9
Other   2
Respondent's education level 325  
Elementary school or less   9.4
Some high school   40
High school graduate or obtained GED   26
College   20
Special education or vocational schooling   4.0
Respondent's marital status 328  
Married   30
Divorced   23
Separated   11
Widowed   6
Never Married   30
Respondent's Relationship to youngest child 326  
Birth mother   71
Biological father   9.5
Grandmother   11
Other relative   8.3
Household composition 328  
Birth mother, no other adults   34
Birth mother& 1 male adult   27
Birth mother& extended family*   8.2
Biological father*   8.5
Other relative caretaker*   17
Other**   4.3
  N Mean
Age of respondent 324 39.0
Age of youngest child 328 7.1
Age of oldest child 328 12.5
Number of Children 328 2.9
Number of adults 328 1.8

* 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

Family Problems. Problems identified by New Jersey caretakers are summarized in Table 6-6. Emotional and financial problems were most often cited. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said they had felt "blue or depressed," 52 percent said they felt nervous or tense, 56 percent were overwhelmed by work or family responsibilities, 33 percent said they had just wanted to give up sometime in the last month, and 27 percent said they had few or no friends. Over half (52%) responded affirmatively to the general question as to whether they experienced not having enough money for food or rent, and on more specific questions about difficulties paying bills, 29 percent said they had difficulty paying rent, 37 percent difficulty paying electric or heat bills, 30 percent difficulty buying food (on this item there was a significant difference between the groups, 26% of the experimental group vs. 36% of the control group, p = .04), and 45 percent difficulty buying clothes for their children. Few respondents reported problems in drinking or using drugs (only 0.9% said they "had too much to drink in the last week" and 0.9% said they used drugs several times in a week). Only 3 percent said they had gotten into trouble with the law. Most (93%) thought they were "doing a pretty good job raising [their] kids."

Table 6-6. 
Caretaker problems and strengths, 
caretaker initial interview,
New Jersey
Problems Percent responding yes
Felt blue or depressed 58
Felt nervous or tense 52
Just wanted to give up 33
Overwhelmed with work or family responsibility 56
Felt you had few or no friends 27
Not enough money for food, rent, or clothing 52
Gotten in trouble with the law 3
Had too much to drink in a week 1
Used drugs several times a week 1
Economic Items
Had difficulty paying rent 29
Had difficulty paying electric/heat 37
Had difficulty buying enough food 30
Had difficulty buying clothes 45
Positive Items
Have you felt happy 80
Gotten together with anyone to have fun/relax 46
Doing a pretty good job raising kids 93

Table 6-7 shows problems of children identified by caretakers. About four-fifths of caretakers said at least one child in the family threw tantrums and about three-fourths said a child "gets upset easily." School problems were common; over 40 percent had been absent a lot or failed classes and nearly a third had been suspended. Aggressive behavior was common, 40 percent of caretakers said a child fights a lot with other kids and 56 percent said a child was very aggressive toward them.

Caretaker Abuse or Neglect as a Child. Twenty-eight percent of New Jersey caretakers reported having been abused as a child and 25 percent reported having been neglected. Twenty-one percent answered "yes" to both questions, and overall, 32 percent of the caretakers reported having been abused, neglected, or both as a child. Fourteen percent of the respondents had been in a foster home or institution. There was little difference between the experimental and control groups in these previous experiences.

Table 6-7.
Concerns and problems regarding children,
Caretaker Initial Interview, 
New Jersey

(% responding yes regarding any child that the respondent cares for)
  New Jersey
N %
Asked about all children...
Child went through alcohol withdrawal at birth 315 5
Child went through drug withdrawal when born 315 6
Child doesn't show much interest in what is going on 321 20
Child is Smaller/Lighter than other children 326 14
Child Get(s) upset easily 325 74
Asked for children over 3 months old...
Is/Are Funny and makes you laugh 325 90
Like(s) to share things with others 321 80
Throw(s) tantrums 324 79
Is/Are shy and withdrawn 325 33
Is/Are outgoing and friendly 324 92
Is/Are good looking 325 99
Fight(s) a lot with other kids 317 40
Has/Have language problems 314 26
Asked for children over 4 years old...
Is/Are very aggressive toward you 304 56
Has/Have a special talent in music 305 44
Like(s) animals 306 87
Is/Are good at sports 302 69
Usually does the right thing 304 65
Hangs with friends you don't like 303 49
In the past 3 months, has any child you care for...
Gone to church regularly 306 37
Been absent from school a lot 300 42
Run away from home overnight 304 26
Been temporarily suspended from school 303 32
Been expelled from school 303 9
Taken care of younger children 288 37
Took something that didn't belong 304 42
Absent from school/no good reason 301 27
Received special education at school 304 55
Failed any classes 294 41
Received counseling 304 66
Asked for any child over age 7...
In the last 3 months, has any child been arrested 283 16
Asked only for children over age 10...
Has child age 11 or older had alcohol problems 237 13
Has child age 11 or older had a drug problem 236 17
Has any girl age 12 to 18 been pregnant 160 4
Has any boy age 14 to 18 fathered a child 75 3

Previous Allegations and Placement. Of the 434 New Jersey families for which we had administrative data, 89 percent had an allegation of maltreatment prior to the date of referral to family preservation services. Sixty-four percent had a substantiated report of maltreatment prior the referral date.15

We have data for 369 cases on the type of allegation just before the last case opening before referral. Forty-two percent of the cases had allegations of physical abuse, 11 percent of lack of supervision, 20 percent of other neglect, 5 percent of sexual abuse, and 5 percent of emotional abuse (cases could fall in more than one of these categories). In 22 percent of the cases, there was no abuse or neglect found before the case opening.

Similar to the analysis of Kentucky data, we examined reports of maltreatment before the allegation prior to the referral to family preservation services, as an indication of prior involvement with the child welfare system. Of the 386 families with allegations prior to referral, 205 (53%) had a substantiated report of maltreatment before that, indicating that about half of the families had previous involvement with the system.

As to substitute care placement, 191 children in 94 families had previously experienced placement. Eighteen of these children were in 5 adoptive homes and the referral to family preservation services was for the purpose of preserving the adoptive home. For the remaining 173 children, the average length of time between the end of the previous placement and random assignment was 53.5 months. The average length of time in that placement spell was 12.9 months.16 Seventy percent of the first placements in the previous placement spell were foster family care, the remainder were residential treatment, shelter care, group homes, and institutions. There was a difference between the experimental groups in the previous placement experience of children, with control group children averaging 85 days and the experimental group children averaging 104 days (a nonsignificant difference).

Length of Time from Case Opening to Referral to Family Preservation. On 434 New Jersey cases for which we have administrative data, 13 cases were not open at the time of the referral to family preservation services. Two of these 13 cases were opened within 30 days after the referral, and two were opened within 2 to 6 months after the referral. The remaining 9 cases had not been opened as of the last date of observation for these analyses (August 31, 1998). In 34 percent of the 421 cases open at the time of random assignment, the referral to family preservation services occurred within a month after case opening while in another 33 percent it came between two and six months after case opening. In 21 percent of the cases the referral occurred more than a year after case opening. The administrative data also recorded reports of maltreatment prior to random assignment for 386 families. In 37 percent of these cases, the report occurred in the month prior to referral, in another 28 percent it came between two and six months prior. In 25 percent the report occurred more than a year before referral.

Social Program Participation. Table 6-8 shows the rates of participation by New Jersey families in social programs. About half of the respondents reported having received food stamps; two-fifths, AFDC; a third, social security disability; and a fifth, WIC. About a third had been in a community mental health program and two-fifths had had children in Head Start or another pre-school program. Very few had been in alcohol or drug treatment or marriage counseling. The experimental and control groups differed significantly only with regard to job training, 2 percent of the control group and 8 percent of the experimental group had been in such a program (p = .01).

Table 6-8. 
Participation in social programs prior to initial interview, 
New Jersey
Program Percent %
Food Stamps 51
Job Training 6
WIC 23
Housing Vouchers 16
Social Security Disability 31
Alcoholism Program 7
Drug Treatment Program 6
Marriage Counseling 3
Community Mental Health program 31
Head Start/Pre-school 42

 (13) Fifteen percent of control group respondents and 17% of experimental group respondents reported an income less than $5,000; 32% control and 22% experimental reported between $5,000 and $10,000; 15% control and 31% experimental reported between $10,000 and $20,000; 24% control and 18% experimental reported between $20,000 and $40,000, and 14% control and 12% experimental reported an income of $40,000 or more.

(14) Control group respondents more often lived with a spouse or partner, 43% vs. 35%, p = .13.

(15) In the New Jersey administrative data, there are 7 possible outcomes of investigations of maltreatment: abuse/neglect/injury confirmed perpetrator, abuse/neglect/injury unconfirmed perpetrator, abuse/neglect/injury perpetrator unknown, unsubstantiated incident, unsubstantiated incident with concern, incident never occurred, and no outcome. The data above concern only persons who were children at the time of random assignment. The administrative data also record information on previous allegations involving persons who are now adults. Seventy-four adults (persons 18 or over at the time of random assignment) from 51 families had been the subjects of previous substantiated reports of maltreatment. 

(16) By a "spell" we mean a period of time in placement which may consist of one or more distinct placements in different foster homes or in other settings.