Homebuilders: Helping Families Help Themselves
Jill Kinney and Kelly Dittmar
When we opened the Homebuilders 1 program in Tacoma, Washington, in 1974, most of us thought families whose children were placed outside the home were probably hopeless. We presumed that those families probably did not really care about their children and did not deserve to have them. At that time, all child welfare workers had high caseloads. Large amounts of time and expertise for children had typically been available only in residential settings. We did not know what would happen if we allocated similar resources to children while they were in their own homes.
During our work over the past 20 years, our clients have shown us that even seriously troubled families have more capacity for growth than we had previously dreamed. Now, Homebuilders is recognized as a pioneer in a unique social service known as intensive family preservation and has helped to guide an international movement to strengthen families. The Homebuilders experience is not only a story of the ability of people to change their lives; it is also a story about the ability of social services to be compassionate, responsive, and cost-effective.
Today, intensive family preservation services (FPS) are available to families in crisis in more than 30 states and a growing number of countries abroad, including Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia. At least 10 to 15 states, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, and Tennessee, have made substantial commitments to these types of programs and are moving to institutionalize them as a matter of state policy.