A Synthesis of Research on Family Preservation and Family Reunification Programs. Prevention of Subsequent Child Maltreatment


The hope in family preservation programs is to prevent the placement of children without subsequent maltreatment. Few studies have examined the effects of family preservation programs on the recurrence of child maltreatment. Obviously, it is impossible to detect all maltreatment of children, so researchers have generally depended on reported incidents. In the five-year follow-up study of the New York Preventive Services Demonstration, Jones (1985) found that 21 percent of 98 families in the experimental group and 25 percent of 44 control group families had experienced one or more indicated reports of child maltreatment. The difference between groups was not statistically significant. Yuan et al. (1990) reported that approximately one- quarter of families in both the program and control groups experienced an investigation of child abuse or neglect within 8 months after referral. In the Illinois experiment, children in the family preservation program were somewhat more likely to be identified as victims of subsequent maltreatment than children in the control group; although statistically significant, the difference between the groups was small (Schuerman, Rzepnicki, and Littell 1994).32

As with placement, the rates of maltreatment in both the experimental and control groups in these studies were fairly low. Had placement been prevented, the results could be taken as indicating that this benefit was attained without increased harm to most children. However, most children in both groups remained in their homes, and the results indicate that the experimental services did not reduce an already low rate of subsequent harm.

32 The large number of children in this study made it relatively easy to detect statistically significant differences. There were no sites in which significant reductions in the recurrence of maltreatment were found, nor did the program affect the risk of subsequent maltreatment for any of the subgroups of cases examined.