The Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs is a study of family preservation and family reunification programs. It is being conducted in response to the requirements of the 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA), which established a 5 year capped entitlement program totaling nearly $1 billion to encourage the development and expansion of family preservation and family support programs. Subsequently, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 reauthorized the family preservation and family support provisions of the 1993 OBRA for three additional years with slightly increased funding. The 1997 Act also places greater emphasis on reunification and adoption services.
The evaluation assesses whether the key goals of family preservation and reunification programs are being met. These goals are to avoid unnecessary foster care placements, with their related human and monetary costs; to ensure the safety of children; and to improve family functioning. The evaluation examines how family preservation and reunification programs work, for whom they are most effective, and the extent to which program variables, child welfare system variables, and other factors in the service delivery environment affect outcomes of programs. Family preservation programs in four states and one reunification program are being evaluated.
For the family preservation sites, an experimental design is being used in which families are randomly assigned either to an experimental group that receives family preservation services or to a control group. The control group does not receive family preservation services, but receives other services provided by the child welfare agency.
Sites in four states were selected for participation. These sites include: Louisville, Kentucky; seven counties in New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee. At this time enrollment of cases in the experiment has been completed in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee with enrollment expected to be complete in Philadelphia by December 1998.
Information will be collected through interviews with caseworkers and caretakers to examine caretakers' parenting practices, interaction with children, discipline, social networks, economic functioning, housing, abuse and neglect, psychological functioning, child well being, and caseworker/caretaker interactions. These interviews are being conducted with:
- The investigating worker, caseworker, and caretaker of each family at the start of services;
- The caseworker and the caretaker at the conclusion of family preservation services, and at a comparable point in time for those families in the control group; and
- Caretakers one year after entry into the experiment.
After each in-person contact with families, experimental and control caseworkers complete a one page form describing the services provided during the contact. Also, cost data and case history information are collected through administrative data. Administrative data will provide information on children's placements, reentries, and subsequent abuse and neglect allegations up to 18 months after entry into the experiment. Staff attitudes and characteristics are collected through a one-time self-administered questionnaire. Throughout the project, discussions are being held with personnel of the public agency and service provider agency to gather information about agency services, policies, staffing, training, and the context of services.
While data collection efforts are the same across sites, the sites vary in their approach to identifying families for services, the populations served, and the type of services provided.
- Kentucky has a state-wide program that uses the HomeBuilders model. A state office coordinator is responsible for developing uniform selection criteria, training, contracting with family preservation providers, and oversight of the state program. The evaluation is being conducted in Louisville, where there is a single family preservation program provider and child abuse and neglect cases are being referred from intake or ongoing workers. There is no age limitation on the children included in the experiment.
- New Jersey also has a state-wide program using the Homebuilders model. As in Kentucky, there is a state office coordinator responsible for uniform selection criteria, training, contracting with providers, and oversight of the program. The study is being conducted in seven counties: Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Essex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Passaic. Each county has a separate family preservation provider. The study population includes Division of Youth and Family Service child abuse and neglect cases referred from intake or ongoing workers. The state has been trying to refocus delivery of family preservation services to families with younger children. Not all counties have modified their service delivery, so all children under 18 are included in the experiment.
- Tennessee has a state-wide program using the Homebuilders model. It also has a state office coordinator responsible for uniform selection criteria, training, contracting with providers, and oversight of the program. The evaluation is being conducted in Memphis and is focusing on children under 13 years old who are being referred from the Department of Children's Services. Cases are being referred only from intake workers.
- Pennsylvania's child welfare system is county based. The experiment focuses on the family preservation program in Philadelphia in three private agencies. Family preservation is a three-month program that requires workers to spend at least 5 to 10 hours per week with the family. The public agency has a specialized family preservation unit that develops selection criteria, approves families to receive family preservation services and works closely with the private providers. All other in-home services, known as SCOH (Services to Children in their Own Homes), are provided by private providers and monitored by the Department's caseworkers. For the experiment, private agencies, which provide both SCOH and family preservation services and treat a large number of families with substance abuse problems were chosen. Experimental cases receive family preservation services and control cases will receive SCOH services. Cases with children under 18 years old are included in the study. Ongoing cases are not included.
The reunification program being studied is New York City's HomeRebuilders Demonstration.
- New York's HomeRebuilders program began in 1993. The project was a major demonstration effort to change the foster care system in New York City. Based on the premise that paying for each day a child is in foster care (per diem payment) is a disincentive to return children home, the demonstration tested an alternative method of agency reimbursement. Instead of paying for each day in care, agencies were paid a flat amount of money or capitation payment. It was hypothesized that the change in the payment system would achieve earlier permanency for children through intensified discharge planning and aftercare services. Six agencies were involved in the program and random assignment was employed in three of the agencies.
This project supplemented the evaluation efforts of New York State by conducting follow-up interviews with a sample of workers and client families; analyzing administrative data; and conducting interviews with administrative, supervisory and front line staff about the implementation of the initiative.
This report presents the findings from the New York HomeRebuilders evaluation. Subsequent reports will provide analyses on each of the family preservation experiments. In addition a supplemental report on the current status of family preservation programs is in process. The report will address questions about the state of family preservation services. It provides a current picture of family preservation and the important issues affecting its use.
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