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

01/08/2001

Most families in the study had birth mothers as the primary caretakers. About half of these women had not graduated from high school. Half of the households in Tennessee were headed by a single-birth mother, compared to 43 percent in Kentucky, and 34 percent in New Jersey (seeTable 2).

Table 2.
Description of the families at time of initial interviews
    Kentucky New Jersey Tennessee
  N % N % N %
Gender of Caretaker/Respondent 311   328   117  
     Male   7   12   7
  Female   93   88   93
Race of Caretaker/Respondent 310   327   116  
  African American (not Hispanic)   43   42   83
  Caucasian (not Hispanic)   55   47   15
  Hispanic   1   9   1
  Other   1   2   0
Respondent's education level 311   325   116  
  Elementary school or less   9   9   9
  Some high school   44   40   46
  High school graduate or obtained GED   32   26   18
  College   14   20    22
  Special education or vocational schooling   1   4   4
Respondent's marital status 310   328   117  
  Married   24   30   17
  Divorced   19   23   13
  Separated   21   11   14
  Widowed   3   6   3
  Never Married   33   30   54
Respondent's relationship to youngest child 292   326   117  
  Birth Mother   85   71   84
  Biological Father   7   10   6
  Grandmother   6   11   4
  Other Relative   2   8   5
Household composition 311   328   117  
  Birth mother, no other adults   43   34   50
  Birth mother & 1 male adult   24   27   21
  Birth mother & extended family *   9   8   14
  Biological father *   6   9   6
  Other relative caretaker *   7   17   9
  Other **   10   4   1
Summary Statistics:

N

Mean N Mean N Mean
Age of respondent 306 33 324 39 116 33
Age of youngest 311 5 328 7 117 4
Age of oldest child 311 10 328 13 117 11
Number of kids 311 3 328 3 117 3
Number of adults 311 2 328 2 117 2

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

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


At the time of referral to the Family Preservation program, families were experiencing a range of problems, some quite severe, others much less so (see Table 3). Examples included one case with children ages 10 and 12 who were not enrolled in school for nearly a month and were at risk of being removed from their home due to truancy and neglect. Another family was living in a home with no electricity, no heat, no food, no working appliances, a non-working toilet which was full of feces, and all 4 children slept in one bed. And yet another involved children who were sexually abused and who displayed extremely violent, uncontrollable and sexually inappropriate behavior at home and school. Although there was considerable diversity of problems, parental mental health and problematic child behavior were common issues.

At the time of the first interview, approximately half of the caretakers self-reported feelings of depression or stress. In Kentucky and New Jersey, approximately half of the caretakers answered affirmatively to each of three questions about emotional difficulties: "feeling blue or depressed," "feeling nervous or tense," and "feeling overwhelmed with work or family responsibility." Caretakers in Tennessee reported these difficulties at an even higher rate. Substantial proportions of caretakers reported behavioral problems in children. Between 60 and 74 percent said at least one of their children got upset easily, and two-thirds to four-fifths indicated that the children threw tantrums. Many said their children fight a lot with other kids (18% to 40%) and were very aggressive with their parents (18% to 43%). A number had problems in school, between 30 and 42 percent had children who had been suspended from school while 9 to 16 percent had children who had been expelled.

Table 3.
Selected Child and Family Problem Areas
(% responding yes)
Item Kentucky New Jersey Tennessee
Caretaker Problems
Felt blue or depressed 55 58 62
Felt nervous or tense 56 52 53
Just wanted to give up 31 33 28
Overwhelmed with work or family responsibility 47 56 46
Not enough money for food, rent, or clothing 49 52 56
Participation in AFDC, food stamps, WIC, social security disability, or housing vouchers 82 68 80
Child Problems (%s of cases for which the question was relevant)
Child doesn't show much interest in what is going on 84 20 29
Child Get(s) upset easily 69 74 60
Throw(s) tantrums 83 79 67
Fight(s) a lot with other kids 33 40 18
Has/Have language problems 30 26 25
Is/Are very aggressive toward you 43 56 18
Hangs with friends you don't like 28 49 44
Been absent from school a lot 38 42 27
Run away from home overnight 10 26 21
Been temporarily suspended from school 30 32 42
Been expelled from school 11 9 16
Took something that didn't belong to him or her 34 42 27
Absent from school for no good reason 30 27 18
Failed any classes 27 41 38

Half or more of the respondents in all three states indicated that they did not have enough money for food, rent, or clothing. About two-thirds of the respondents in New Jersey and Tennessee reported they participated in at least 1 of the 5 income support programs: AFDC, food stamps, WIC, social security disability, and housing vouchers. In Kentucky, over 80 percent participated in one of these programs.

A number of families had previous involvement with the child welfare system. In Tennessee, 41 percent had previous substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect compared to 47 percent in Kentucky and 53 percent in New Jersey. In Kentucky and New Jersey, a fifth of the families had children who had previously been in foster care placement. In Tennessee, only 4 families had children who had previously been placed.

It might be noted that no mention is made here of substance abuse problems, thought by many to be a major issue in many families involved with the child welfare system. Very few caretakers admitted to alcohol or substance abuse in our initial interviews (fewer than five percent said they had either alcohol or drug problems except in Tennessee, where 8% said they "used drugs several times a week"). These are likely underestimates of the extent of substance misuse in the samples. However, states had policies regarding referrals to family preservation that may have limited the number of families with these problems. For example, New Jersey believed that family preservation should be used cautiously for substance abuse problems. Its FPS policy manual suggested that it is unlikely that a substance abuse problem can be resolved in a 5-6 week period. In Kentucky, families in which a drug dependent adult was not in active treatment were excluded from the program.