The Systemic Impact of Family Preservation Services: A Case Study
Ira M. Schwartz
Family preservation services are sweeping the country. Child welfare administrators in every state are implementing home-based service strategies designed to strengthen families, prevent out-of-home placements, and reunite families. It is also hoped that these services will help officials control the skyrocketing costs of child welfare systems.
While family preservation services enjoy broad professional and political support, there are relatively few rigorous studies of such programs. Most of the studies, particularly those claiming great success in preventing placements, have significant methodological deficiencies ( Rossi, 1991), while findings from studies with credible designs are far from compelling and raise serious questions that need to be addressed by policymakers and practitioners ( Littell, Schuerman, & Rzepnicki, 1991; Rossi, 1991; Schuerman, Rzepnicki, Littell, & Chak, 1993). For example, the concept "imminent risk of placement" is proving to be extremely difficult to implement in practice. There are also some who question whether placement prevention should be the only or even the major criterion for measuring program success ( Rossi, 1991; Schuerman, Rzepnicik, Littell, & Budde, 1992; Wald, 1988).
Another problem with research on family preservation services is that it has largely focused on measuring the outcomes of discrete programs and models of intervention ( Rossi, 1991). There have been no careful studies exploring the systemic impact of such services.
This chapter examines systemic and policy issues regarding family preservation services. It draws upon information and data about the Families First program and child welfare system in Michigan.