Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report. Chapter 9: Conclusions


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, family preservation programs became a popular response of states to rising rates of foster care placement of children. It was commonly assumed that many children were unnecessarily removed from their parents and that intensive services could prevent those placements while protecting children from harm. Early evaluations suggested these programs had considerable promise but these studies were criticized for flaws in research design. Later, more rigorously designed studies began to cast doubt on the extensive claims of success. The largest of these studies were in California, New Jersey, and Illinois. No placement prevention effects were found in California and Illinois, while the study in New Jersey found short term effects that dissipated with time.1 However, these studies were also criticized, most notably for not having examined those programs thought to be most likely to be effective.

This evaluation of family preservation programs was designed to overcome shortcomings of previous studies. It assessed the extent to which key goals of the programs are being met: the goals of reduction of foster care placement, maintaining the safety of children, and improving family functioning.2 It studied the Homebuilders model of service, thought by many to be the most promising.

The design for this evaluation was an experiment in which families were randomly assigned to either a family preservation program (the experimental group) or to other, "regular" services of the child welfare system (the control group). Families were followed for over a year after random assignment. Data collection involved multiple interviews with caretakers and caseworkers and examination of administrative data on placements, reports of maltreatment, and case openings and closings. This report concerns programs in three states, Kentucky (Louisville and Lexington), New Jersey (seven counties), and Tennessee (Memphis). The programs in these states followed the Homebuilders model of family preservation (sometimes labeled "intensive family preservation").

(1) J. Littell and J. Schuerman. (1995). A Synthesis of Research on Family Preservation and Family Reunification.http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/cyp/fplitrev.htm.

(2) We did not assess the extent to which reducing placement was an appropriate goal in particular cases; preventing placement and preserving families whenever possible is a well accepted value of the child welfare system.