A Synthesis of Research on Family Preservation and Family Reunification Programs. Cost


Family preservation programs have been promoted as a way to save costs on foster care. Claims of cost savings based on non- experimental studies must assume that most of the families who receive intensive, home-based services would have required placement in the absence of these services. The costs of intensive services are then compared with estimated costs of placements.36 As we have shown, the assumption that placement would have occurred in the absence of services is not supportable.

Few controlled studies have examined costs in treatment and control groups. In an overflow comparison group study, Wood, Barton, and Schroeder (1988) reported that the cost of 4 to 6 weeks of in-home services for 26 FamiliesFirst cases plus the cost of placements that occurred in these cases over a one-year period totaled $124,783, compared with $176,015 in placement costs alone for 24 cases in the comparison group. Information on the costs of other services provided to program and comparison cases was not available.

Only one randomized experiment has examined costs in both treatment and control groups. Yuan et al. (1990) found that the placement costs for in-home services and control cases were similar ($141,375 versus $145,388) for the 152 families in each group. In addition, the average cost of providing intensive, home-based services was $4,767 per family served, over $700,000 in total (Yuan et al. 1990). Unfortunately, data on the costs of non-placement services provided to the control group were not available, but it is reasonable to assume that these were considerably lower than the cost of intensive, in-home services. Thus, it is evident that the total costs for cases in the family preservation program exceeded the costs of services to control cases.

On balance, evidence that family preservation programs save money is scant and the results of available studies are mixed. Obviously, if evaluations do not show that programs avert placement, they cannot show that costs are reduced.

36 For examples of these types of cost estimates, see Florida Office of the Inspector General (1982); Hinckley and Ellis (1985); Citizens for Missouri's Children (1989); Kinney, Haapala, and Booth (1991); Bartsch and Kawamura (1993); and Bergquist, Szwejda, and Pope (1993).