Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. 9.1.5 Family and Child Functioning

01/08/2001

We interviewed caretakers at three points in time, shortly after the beginning of service (the "initial" interview), four to six weeks later (at the end of service for families receiving family preservation services, called the "post-treatment interview"), and again a year after services began (the "follow-up interview"). Caseworkers for both experimental and control group families were interviewed at the first two of these points in time. In these interviews, we examined a number of areas of family and child functioning that might have been affected by family preservation services. We looked at both levels of functioning at post treatment and follow up and changes over time in levels of functioning. We examined responses to some of the individual items in the interviews, and we combined responses into various scales measuring dimensions of functioning. The following are the areas examined.

Caretaker interview:

  • Life events. An inventory of recent positive and negative life events was used to construct three scales: positive life events, negative life events, and depression.
  • Problems. Nine items, examined individually.
  • Economic functioning. Four items on difficulty in paying for rent, electricity and heat, food, and clothes were examined individually and combined in a scale.
  • Household condition. Ten items, examined individually and combined in a scale.
  • Child care practices. Fifteen items, examined individually and in three scales: positive child care practices, negative child care practices, and punishment.
  • Caretaker depression. Scores on the SCL-90 depression scale.
  • Child behavior. Thirty-five questions comprising scales for aggression, school problems, positive child behaviors, and negative child behaviors.
  • Overall assessment of improvement. A single question.

Caseworker interview:

  • Caretaker functioning. Nine five-point scale questions, examined individually and averaged.
  • Household condition. Thirteen questions combined in a scale.
  • Caretaker problems. Twenty-one questions combined in a scale.
  • Child problems. Twelve questions combined in a scale.

The results of the measures of functioning are summarized in Tables 9-2 and 9-3. In a few of these areas of functioning, in one or the other of the states, families in the experimental group appeared to be doing better post-treatment. There were very few differences at the year follow-up and in changes over time. Those differences that did appear (primarily at post-treatment) were not consistent across states and were not maintained. At best, it can be said that family preservation services may have small, apparently short-term, effects on some areas of functioning. There was one item with some consistency, the overall assessment of improvement by caretakers. At post treatment, in Kentucky and New Jersey, a significantly larger proportion of experimental group caretakers generally thought there was "great improvement" in their lives. This difference was significant in both the primary and secondary analyses. In the Tennessee secondary analysis, results tended in the same direction, though not significantly (p = .09). At follow up, differences between the groups in Kentucky and New Jersey had nearly disappeared. In Tennessee at follow up, control group respondents more often thought there was "great improvement" (p = .055).