Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Unproven Family Preservation Plan Embraced

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Unproven Family Preservation Plan Embraced

Article excerpt

OVER THE LAST DECADE, Missouri, Illinois and 28 other states have turned to a social program that seemed to offer remarkable results. With just a brief but intensive dose of counseling and social services, proponents said, the appealingly named "family preservation" program would keep families together and children out of expensive foster care.

The Clinton administration has embraced the approach. But as Congress considered a budget package last week that would pour more money into such programs, researchers said a growing body of evidence suggests that family preservation has not lived up to its name.

The largest and most rigorous study of the program, a three-year evaluation of 1,600 families in Illinois that was completed last week, found no evidence that the program saved money or prevented the splintering of troubled families in which parents have been reported for mistreating their children.

Researchers with the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago concluded that the Illinois' family preservation program helped some families cope with concrete problems related to poverty, like an eviction notice, a collapsing ceiling or a balky welfare department, but did not fundamentally change family relationships.

Several influential child-welfare experts from both liberal and conservative camps say the vaunted notions of what family preservation can accomplish should be scaled back sharply.

"It's a matter of hubris to expect that a program is going to remedy the damage done by extreme poverty running across several generations and compounded by widespread alcohol and drug abuse," said Peter H. Rossi, a sociologist who wrote an exhaustive paper in 1991 assessing the various studies of family preservation for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

Despite the reservations of experts, a program that promised to save not only families, but money, too, has taken on a powerful political momentum in an era of fiscal austerity.

Programs vary from state to state, but generally workers investigating reports of child abuse and neglect are charged with deciding whether a family can be saved with a strong, one-time injection of social services offered through family preservation. …

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