Academic journal article Social Work Research

Client Participation and Outcomes of Intensive Family Preservation Services

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Client Participation and Outcomes of Intensive Family Preservation Services

Article excerpt

This study examined whether and how variations in client participation affect outcomes of intensive family preservation services in child welfare. Two distinct components of participation were identified: collaboration with workers in treatment planning and compliance with program expectations. Controlling for case characteristics and duration of services, results of a simultaneous equations model indicate that greater collaboration is related to better compliance. Compliance, in turn, predicts significant reductions in the likelihood of subsequent reports of child maltreatment and out-of-home placements. Compliance is not predictive of the substantiation of new reports of maltreatment or case closing in the public child welfare agency. Alternative explanations for the findings are considered. Although more active client participation might facilitate change in target problems, compliance itself may affect clinical and judicial decisions that lead to certain outcomes.

Key words: child welfare; client participation; compliance; family preservation services; outcomes

In the 1980s and 1990s intensive family preservation services (FPS) were widely implemented in child welfare agencies across the United States. This was a response to burgeoning caseloads, a requirement of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) that states make "reasonable efforts" to prevent out-of-home placements, and positive early evaluation results (Fraser, Nelson, & Rivard, 1997). In cases of child abuse and neglect, FPS seek to reduce the risk of future harm to children so that they can remain in their own homes safely. The success of FPS may depend in part on the extent to which caseworkers engage parents and other primary caregivers in efforts to improve parenting and family functioning.

FPS caseworkers have reported wide variations in caregiver participation (Schuerman, Rzepnicki, & Littell, 1994). Although similar variations have been linked to outcomes in other settings (Blackwell, 1997; Moos & King, 1997; Orlinsky, Grawe, & Parks, 1994), there is little empirical research on caregiver participation in FPS. This study examines effects of variations in caregiver participation in FPS on outcomes in child welfare.

Referrals to FPS are usually made by public child welfare agency workers following the investigation and substantiation of reports of child maltreatment. These investigations take place without caregiver consent, establishing the involuntary context of child welfare services. In some cases the courts have ordered caregivers to participate in FPS. Clients usually enter FPS under coercive circumstances including the threat (real or perceived) of child removal as a consequence of nonparticipation.

FPS are provided in families' homes and communities over a short period of time, usually between one and four months (National Evaluation of Family Preservation Services, 1995). Caseloads are small (two to 12 families per full-time worker), and workers spend two to 15 hours a week in each family's home (Fraser et al., 1997). Workers are expected to involve family members in treatment planning and help caregivers provide better care for themselves and their children (Kinney, Haapala, & Booth, 1991). FPS workers provide caregivers with information, support, counseling, material aid, and referrals to other community resources. In some jurisdictions, the provision of FPS is viewed by child welfare and family court staff as prima facie evidence that the "reasonable efforts" standard has been met.


Recent studies of the effects of FPS have had mixed results (Blythe, Salley, & Jayaratne, 1994; Fraser et al., 1997; Pecora, 1991; Rossi, 1992; Schuerman et al., 1994). FPS have not produced expected reductions in out-of-home placements or in the recurrence of child maltreatment. A few controlled studies linked FPS to modest, short-term improvements in some areas of family functioning (Feldman, 1991; McCroskey & Meezan, 1997; Schuerman et al. …

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