Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 6.4 The Tennessee Families


As with Kentucky and New Jersey, a description of the Tennessee families was compiled using information from the initial interviews with caretakers (= 117, 80% of the 142 net study cases). In addition to the description of the sample as a whole, specific characteristics on which the experimental and control groups differ significantly are identified below.

Table 6-9 shows some of the characteristics of the caretakers and families in the Tennessee sample. Slightly more than 93 percent of the respondents were women. Eighty-three percent of the sample was African American (not Hispanic), 15 percent Caucasian, and 1 percent Hispanic. Nine percent of the sample had less than a high school education, 46 percent some high school, 18 percent high school graduation or GED, 22 percent at least some college education, and 4 percent had special education or vocational schooling. Over half the sample (54%) had never been married, 3 percent widowed, 14 percent separated, 13 percent divorced, and 17 percent were married. At the time of the initial interview, approximately 40 percent of the respondents were employed, 24 percent reported they were unemployed and looking for work, and 36 percent reported they were unemployed and not looking for work. Information about household income was provided by 115 of the respondents. Thirty-eight percent reported an income less than $5,000, 24 percent reported between $5,000 and $10,000, 23 percent reported between $10,000 and $20,000, 11 percent reported between $20,000 and $40,000, and 3 percent reported an income of $40,000 or more.

Table 6-9.
Description of the Tennessee families at time of initial interviews
  N %
Gender of Caretaker/Respondent 117  
Male   6.8
Female   93.2
Race of Caretaker/Respondent 116  
African American (not Hispanic)   83
Caucasian (not Hispanic)   15
Hispanic   1
Other   0
Respondent's education level 116  
Elementary school or less   9
Some high school   46
High school graduate or obtained GED   18
College   22
Special education or vocational schooling   4
Respondent's marital status 117  
Married   17
Divorced   13
Separated   14
Widowed   3
Never Married   54
Respondent's Relationship to youngest child 117  
Birth mother   84
Biological father   6
Grandmother   4.3
Other relative   5.1
Household composition 117  
Birth mother, no other adults   50
Birth mother& 1 male adult   21
Birth mother& extended family*   14
Biological father*   6
Other relative caretaker*   9
Other**   1
  N Mean
Age of respondent 116 32.5
Age of youngest child 117 4.0
Age of oldest child 117 10.8
Number of Children 117 3.3
Number of adults 117 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.

There was an average of 4.9 persons in the families, 1.6 adults and 3.3 children. The average age of the respondents was 33 (= 116, s.d. = 8.5). The age of the youngest child in the family ranged from 0 to 17 with an average of 4.0 years (n = 117, s.d. = 4.2); 33 percent were under the age of one, 25 percent were between 1 and 4, 38 percent between 5 and 12, and 3.6 percent 13 and over. The age of the oldest child in the family ranged from 0 to 17 with an average of 10.8 (n = 117, s.d. = 4.8); 4.3 percent were under the age of one, 6.1 percent were between 1 and 4, 46 percent between 5 and 12, and 44 percent 13 and over.

When asked about their relationship to the youngest child in the home, 84 percent of the respondents reported they were birth mothers, 6 percent were biological fathers, 4.3 percent were grandmothers, one respondent was an adoptive mother, and the rest were other relatives (including aunts, uncles, a sister, and a great grandmother). With respect to the household composition at the time of the first interview, exactly half of the sample was comprised of families headed by birth mothers with no other adult in the home, 21 percent had a birth mother and one male adult, 14 percent had a birth mother and extended family, 6 percent were headed by a biological father, and 9 percent had an other relative caretaker (1% of the families did not fall into one of these categories). Thirty-one percent responded that they were living with a spouse or partner. Seventy-six percent reported that they rented their homes while 24 percent reported owning their home. While there were no statistically significant differences between the experimental and control groups, there was a marginally significant difference with respect to the proportion of respondents living with a spouse or partner. A larger proportion of the experimental group reported living with a spouse or partner (36% vs. 19%, p = .06).

Family Problems. Table 6-10 summarizes the problems and strengths identified by caretakers. When asked about emotional and financial problems within the last month, 61 percent of respondents said they felt "blue or depressed," 53 percent said they felt nervous or tense, 46 percent were overwhelmed with work or family responsibilities, 28 percent said they had just wanted to give up, and 24 percent said they felt they had few or no friends. Over half (56%) responded affirmatively to the general question of whether or not they experienced not having enough money for food or rent. On more specific questions about financial difficulties, 35 percent indicated having difficulty buying clothes, 26 percent buying enough food, 42 percent paying electric or heat bills, and 37 percent paying rent (on this last item, a significantly greater proportion of control group respondents answered affirmatively, 54% vs. 29%, p = .01). Less than 10 percent of the sample reported problems in drinking or using drugs (2.5% said they had too much to drink several times a week, and 7.7% reported using drugs several times a week). Only 4.3 percent had gotten in trouble with the law in the past month. Almost all respondents (97%) thought they were "doing a pretty good job raising their kids."

Table 6-10.
Caretaker problems and strengths, 
caretaker initial interview, 
Problems Percent responding yes
Felt blue or depressed 62
Felt nervous or tense 53
Just wanted to give up 28
Overwhelmed with work or family responsibility 46
Felt you had few or no friends 24
Not enough money for food, rent, or clothing 56
Gotten in trouble with the law 4
Had too much to drink in a week 3
Used drugs several times a week 8
Economic Items
Had difficulty paying rent 37
Had difficulty paying electric/heat 42
Had difficulty buying enough food 26
Had difficulty buying clothes 35
Positive Items
Have you felt happy 87
Gotten together with anyone to have fun/relax 56
Doing a pretty good job raising kids 97

Table 6-11 shows problems of children identified by caretakers. About two-thirds of caretakers said at least one child in the family threw tantrums and 60 percent said a child "gets upset easily." As in Kentucky and New Jersey, school problems were common; over a quarter had been absent a lot, nearly 40 percent had failed classes, and over 40 percent had been suspended. Somewhat fewer children in Tennessee displayed aggressive behavior, 18 percent of the caretakers responded yes to the items "fights a lot with other kids" and "is very aggressive to you."

Caretaker Abuse or Neglect as a Child. Approximately 33 percent of Tennessee caretakers reported having been abused as a child and 25 percent reported having been neglected. Twenty-one percent responded "yes" to both questions, and overall, 38 percent reported having been abused, neglected, or both as a child. Twelve percent of the respondents reported having been in a foster home or institution as a child. There were no significant differences between experimental and control groups with respect to these previous experiences.

Previous Allegations and Placement. Of the 144 Tennessee families for which we had administrative data, 117 (81%) had an allegation of maltreatment prior to the date of referral to family preservation services. Sixty-seven percent had a substantiated report of maltreatment prior to the referral date.

Table 6-11. 
Concerns and problems regarding children, 
Caretaker Initial Interview, Tennessee

(% responding yes regarding any child that the respondent cares for)
Item N %
Asked about all children...
Child went through alcohol withdrawal at birth 105 5
Child went through drug withdrawal when born 105 5
Child doesn't show much interest in what is going on 111 29
Child is Smaller/Lighter than other children 114 19
Child Get(s) upset easily 112 60
Asked for children over 3 months old...
Is/Are Funny and makes you laugh 111 93
Like(s) to share things with others 110 86
Throw(s) tantrums 111 65
Is/Are shy and withdrawn 108 30
Is/Are outgoing and friendly 110 99
Is/Are good looking 112 96
Fight(s) a lot with other kids 109 18
Has/Have language problems 109 25
Asked for children over 4 years old...
Is/Are very aggressive toward you 104 18
Has/Have a special talent in music 104 53
Like(s) animals 104 90
Is/Are good at sports 104 72
Usually does the right thing 104 85
Hangs with friends you don't like 102 44
In the past 3 months has any child you care for...
Gone to church regularly 104 63
Been absent from school a lot 99 27
Run away from home overnight 98 21
Been temporarily suspended from school 96 42
Been expelled from school 96 16
Taken care of younger children 93 71
Took something that didn't belong 102 27
Absent from school/no good reason 96 18
Received special education at school 97 32
Failed any classes 98 38
Received counseling 96 39
Asked for any child over age 7...
In the last 3 months, has any child been arrested 85 27
Asked only for children over age 10...
Has child age 11 or older had alcohol problems 73 3
Has child age 11 or older had a drug problem 70 4
Has any girl age 12 to 18 been pregnant 41 2
Has any boy age 14 to 18 fathered a child 21 0

We have data for 106 cases on the type of allegation just before the last case opening before referral. Seventy-six percent of the cases had allegations of physical abuse, 15 percent lack of supervision, 8 percent neglect, and 2 percent injury. The distribution of last substantiated allegation is 79 percent physical abuse, 12 percent lack of supervision, 8 percent neglect, and 1 percent injury.

Similar to the other states, 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 117 families with allegations prior to referral, 48 (41%) had a substantiated report of maltreatment before that, indicating that about two-fifths of the families had previous involvement with the system.

As to substitute care placement, according to the CORS administrative data, 9 children in 4 families had previously experienced placement. The average length of time between the end of the previous placement and random assignment was 6.27 months. The average length of time in that placement spell was 16.47 months. Data on previous unpaid relative placements were not available.

Length of Time from Case Opening to Referral to Family Preservation. On 147 Tennessee cases for which we had administrative data on case openings, 36 cases were not open at the time of the referral to family preservation services. In 57 percent of the 111 cases open at the time of random assignment, the referral to family preservation services occurred within a month after case opening while in another 20 percent it came between two and six months after case opening. In 14 percent of the cases the referral occurred more than a year after case opening.

Social Program Participation. Table 6-12 shows the rates of participation by Tennessee families in social programs prior to the initial interview. Almost three-fourths of the respondents reported having received food stamps; 61 percent AFDC; 30 percent social security disability, and 43 percent WIC. Fifteen percent reported participation in a community mental health program, 10 percent in a drug treatment program, 7 percent in an alcoholism program, and 38 percent had children in Head Start or another pre-school program. None of the respondents reported participating in marriage counseling. Five percent of respondents said they had participated in job training, with marginally significant differences (p = .06) between the experimental group (3%) and the control group (11%).

Table 6-12. 
Participation in social programs prior to initial interview, Tennessee
Program Percent %
Food Stamps 72
Job Training 5
WIC 43
Housing Vouchers 7
Social Security Disability 30
Alcoholism Program 7
Drug Treatment Program 10
Marriage Counseling 0
Community Mental Health program 15
Head Start/Pre-school 38