Family preservation services are meant to stabilize families and enhance their functioning in order to eliminate the need for further child welfare intervention. The Services are provided to help parents develop healthier and more effective parenting skills (Tyuse, Hong, & Stretch, 2010,) to prevent future instances of maltreatment, and to ameliorate the concerns that brought the family to the attention of the agency. These supportive services are meant to be short-term and are aimed at families with children at risk for out-of-home placement such as foster care, group homes, correctional facilities, or residential treatment programs (Frasier, Nelson, & Rivard, 1997).
Family preservation Services are flexible, normally provided within the home, and are tailored to fit the needs of the family in order to build upon the “ecological, systems, social-learning, psycho-educational, and crisis theories” (Frasier, Nelson, & Rivard, 1997, p. 140). Family Preservation services often consist of a “mix of crisis intervention, concrete assistance, supportive counseling, skills building, and advocacy” (Frasier, Nelson, & Rivard, 1997, p. 140). In order to determine the effectiveness of such interventions, further review of evidence-based practices is essential. White (2001) indicated that “family preservation programs were designed for families that have serious crisis threatening the stability of the family and the safety of the family members” (p. 370). The main feature of these programs is that they are normally short-term, crisis intervention.
Gaps in the Existing Literature
Until the past ten years, there has been limited literature on family reunification and preservation programs. Existing literature with more intensive designs have shown more mixed results, often with no statistical differences in the proportion of children placed from family preservation and unification programs (Henggeler & Santos, 1997). A study conducted by Kirk (2000) concurrently put forth research reflecting not only that family preservation services were effective, but that prior studies could not establish treatment outcomes. At the same time Heneghan, Horwitz, & Leventhal (1996) supported this concept in their methodological review of previous studies that evaluated efficacy of family preservation services.
Existing literature indicates that proponents of family preservation and unification believe that such children should remain in their homes while their families receive intensive services aimed at keeping the children safe (Barnett, Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2005). Some scholars researched that the doctrine of family preservation and reunification should be abandoned and replaced by programs that are based on child protection and intervention aimed at children needs (Barnett, Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2005). Study results indicate that family preservation and unification programs may be effective in preventing placement into foster care, group homes and residential treatment of youths referred for child behavior problems by the public child welfare system (Reamer & Siegel, 2008).
Operationalization of Key Terms
These programs reflect the basic, socially efficient tenets of liberalism and its reliance on the social sciences for intervention truths. Epstein (1999) says that these programs at the centre of contemporary social work are also uniformly superficial in spite of their author’s claims. Parent motivation plays a key role in successful reunification. Epstein (1999) says that the program should employ research design capable of testing the motivation of parents, comparison group and randomized controls that are significant to prove causation. He continues to say that impending assessment of the number of similar children who have reunified in the absence of intensive services.
Intensive services should be designed to achieve family preservation and reunification. Epstein (1999) says that “far from suggesting a promising solution for the problems of child welfare, the most credible evaluations of family preservation and reunification programs hint at only limited possibilities to enhance reunification through short term and relatively superficial supportive services” (p. 101). There should be enthusiasm for reunification so as to have greater symbolic value in support of chauvinistic notion of the American family. Epstein (1999) says that, ironically, the reunified family is one of the few standards against which foster care compares favourably even while it provides an indictment of American compassion. According to Epstein (1999), the family preservation and reunification program should address the compelling point of scepticism that administrative fiat.
Evidenced Based Practice
Studies indicate that different interventions that have been successful in the reunification of children and families in the child welfare system. One intervention that is effective in the reunification of families is the use of social supports. Leitz, Lacasse and Cacciatore (2011) endorsed the increase of social supports to families who had children placed out of the home and in the custody of the state. When a child is removed, the family may suffer feelings of trauma and stress. It is important for families to have supports and to build systems of support that may assist with stressful situations. Leitz, Lacasse and Cacciatore (2011) studied the effect of external social supports and found that when families shared their stories of successful reunification, they commonly spoke about the value in relationships outside of their immediate family unit. Leitz, Lacasse and Cacciatore (2011) findings suggested that participants in the study perceived social support as influential in the ability to achieve family reunification and maintain healthy functioning.
Scholars indicate that a positive worker and client relationship was important in the process of family reunification (Gockel, Russell and Harris, 2008). The overall perspectives of parents involved in the study reported that program workers extended warmth, understanding and responded to client’s individual needs in a flexible and effective way and focused on individual strengths to help parents overcome barriers to participation (Gockel, Russell & Harris, 2008). Emerging research within the child welfare field suggests that parents that find workers who are genuine, collaborative, and empathic, and that the focus is on the strengths of the parents, they become more engaged in reunification (Gockel, Russell & Harris, 2008). The building of a positive rapport between a worker and a client can make a difference in the engagement with families in the very beginning of the process of reunification and this can improve the success of family reunification in a shorter amount of time.
The use of concrete help including community based family support services was most predictive of reunification. Some areas of concrete help included financial stability, childcare, housing assistance, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, educational and vocational attainment (Berry, McCauley & Lansing, 2007). Grockel, Russell and Harris (2008) interviewed families involved in family preservation programs and found that many families identified family support and the combination of concrete support with counseling, case management, advocacy, and parenting education as the preferred approach to intervening in child abuse and neglect and increase in compliance and engagement from families.
The hypothesis surrounding the family preservation and reunification program evaluation is young children and families that will be reunited through Enables First Steps. The hypothesis surrounding the evaluation of Enables First Steps will seek to establish the relationship between the period spent by child in out-of-homecare and the less likelihood of successful family reunification. The program evaluation will also assess the effectiveness of Enables First Steps in its role of protecting young children and their families from abuse and neglect, to strengthen individual and family functioning and preserve the integrity and dignity of the family while addressing the developmental needs of the individual members (First Steps policy and procedure manual, 2009).
In relation to the research literature review, the evaluation of Enables First Steps will either employ control group or use comparison group with an appropriate match for the group under the program. With regard to Enables First Steps family preservation and reunification programs, the literature review indicates that children were more likely to be placed in stable and significant settings (White, 2001). There is a link between existing literature for family preservation and reunification services and the study been undertaken because shows many more children could remain with their families and a successful reunification program given that the services were provided are more intensive (Whittaker, 1990).