Monthly Archives: June 2013

Building an Effective IFPS Program

Perhaps your agency is one of many that is on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year. With the new fiscal year at hand, your agency may also be considering new programs.

How do you start from scratch to build an effective program?

Let’s look at how one state created an effective Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) program.


The legislative assembly of North Carolina enacted the Family Preservation Act in 1991. The legislation is only a few pages long but it sets forth the essential components of an effective IFPS model:

  • child is at imminent risk of placement,
  • families receive services for an average of four and maximum of six weeks,
  • family preservation workers are available by phone and for visits 24/7, and
  • the maximum caseload at one time is four families.

View the legislation here:

Request for Application/Proposal

With IFPS now firmly established in statute, the next step was to further define the program. A good source of information for establishing a program is the Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Application (RFA) issued by a government entity to solicit providers for a specific service.

The North Carolina Division of Social Services issued the most recent solicitation for IFPS in January of this year. We learn from this document that the state is awarding $3 million to be allocated among 11 regions of the state. The three-year contract will provide reimbursement to providers of $6,000 per family who completes services. We also learn that a master’s degree in social work is preferred for IFPS direct services workers and supervisors, and that they are required to take an initial six days of training. The bulk of the RFA describes the services that must be delivered and the expected outcomes.

View the RFA here:

Following submission of applications, a review committee scores each one. If there is more than a 10-point difference among reviewers, the application is pulled for further discussion and re-scored. Contracts are awarded for each region based on the highest-ranking application. Because awards are determined in this way, there is no guarantee that winning a contract in one RFA cycle will result in winning a contract in the next RFA cycle.

Tracking Results

How does North Carolina determine if the IFPS services are effective? One method is through a quarterly tracking report. Simple, yet informative, the report collects basic information on the:

  • number of families served,
  • number of families ineligible for services or opening not available,
  • ages of children, and
  • outcomes:
    • percentage of families remaining together,
    • improved family functioning, and
    • family satisfaction with services.

At any point in time, the report provides a quick snapshot of IFPS.

Here is the most recent annual summary of their quarterly reports:

(Download the annual summary in PDF format: )

Special thanks to Michelle Reines, Program Consultant for Child Welfare Services, for providing information about North Carolina IFPS.

Other Resources

Here are some other resources for building and maintaining an effective IFPS program:

  • National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) — Information, Training/Technical Assistance

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director


Therapist Qualifications

The last post presented findings from a nationwide survey on the core elements of exemplary IFPS programs, specifically regarding therapists. This week we take a closer in-depth look at the qualifications of therapists. Let’s start with the job description.

Job Description

Two IFPS programs, one in Tennessee (new program) and one in Washington State (longest-running program in the nation), provided job descriptions for therapists. The basic job responsibilities for both programs are very similar and also reflect the core elements of exemplary IFPS programs:

  • Worker meets with the family within 24 hours
  • 24/7 availability of the worker
  • Worker availability on evenings/weekends
  • Low caseload (2–4 families), brief length of service (4–6 weeks)
  • High number of face-to-face hours spent with families (32–40+ hours)

You can view/download the complete job descriptions below:

How do you know if someone is not a good fit for the job?

The Tennessee program lists the following red flags:

  • Inability to work with diverse families
  • Inability to connect in an interview
  • Highly structured world view without the ability to consider others beliefs and opinions
  • High desire for office-based work
  • Strong desire to do “only therapy” (some therapists do not enjoy the case management and hands-on aspects required by IFPS)
  • Inability to take constructive feedback
  • Judgmental attitude toward people with DCS involvement/substance abuse/poverty
  • Lack of adequate transportation, inability to go to a crisis “on a moment’s notice”

Interview Process

And that brings us to the interview process. The following is a list of questions that the Tennessee programs uses in the first interview:

  • Review résumé, ask about experience areas
  • Ask behaviorally specific questions, such as, “Talk about a time when you had several projects to complete. What was the situation? How did you get all those things done? And what lessons did you learn?”
  • Give positive feedback in interviews as this sets people at ease and we tend to get a more realistic view of who they are.
  • Another question: Talk about a time when you had a conflict with a supervisor. What was it and how did you handle it? What was the resolution?
  • Question: What is your theoretical orientation? What attracts you to that ideology? (Ask enough questions to see if the applicant knows what they are talking about.)
  • Question: What are your beliefs about families?
  • Question: How will you feel working with a diverse population of families? Some might have a religion very different than yours, might have same-gender parents, might be mixed-race couples, might have many animals, etc. Talk about your feelings on diverse families.
  • Question: What kinds of families or clients might be hard for you to work with?
  • Question: Talk about your beliefs about people and parents who abuse substances. How might you address a relapse or someone you work with?

In the second interview, the Tennessee program does a role-playing and writing exercise with candidates. You can view/download the role-play details below:

So, how does your agency job description and interview process compare to those provided in this post?

Special thanks to Cindy Cothran, Clinical Supervisor and Project Director of TIES, and to Charlotte Booth, Executive Director of Institute for Family Development, for contributing material for this post.

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

What IFPS programs produce the most effective workers?

The IFPS Coast-to-Coast Blog has been examining strategies for attracting and retaining IFPS therapists. This post looks at the IFPS therapist from the perspective of the most effective IFPS programs nationwide.

A 2011 survey, conducted by the National Family Preservation Network, found 14 states with exemplary IFPS programs. Exemplary programs have written program standards, monitor compliance, and conduct program evaluation. The majority (65%) of IFPS programs use a specific clinical model and provide follow-up services (66%). In these programs an average of 91% of families remain intact at case closure.


Many of the findings in these exemplary programs relate specifically to IFPS therapists:

  • Most of the services are provided by one worker with team back-up
  • Worker has ongoing supervision that includes case consultation
  • Worker receives mandatory training
  • Key components of intensity are adhered to:
    • worker meets with the family within 24 hours
    • 24/7 availability of the worker
    • worker availability on evenings/weekends
    • low caseload (2–4 families), brief length of service (4–6 weeks)
    • high number of face-to-face hours spent with families (average of 47 hours per IFPS intervention)

State by state details – click here to view (PDF, 98 Kb)

The chart also raises additional questions . . . here are some that can be answered by you!

  • What does a typical weekly schedule look like for an IFPS worker?
  • How do you maintain availability while balancing work and home life?

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

10 Things Supervisors Can Teach IFPS Workers to Avoid Burnout

What is burnout? It’s a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that seems overwhelming and insurmountable. It decreases productivity, saps energy and reduces motivation. Workers who burn out leave the job. We’ve explored the high costs of worker turnover in a previous post and recognize the value of retaining workers.

So what can supervisors do to help their workers avoid burnout? They can teach workers to build resiliency. How? By being proactive and working together to prevent rather than trying to address burnout when it’s too late

Here are 10 strategies that supervisors can teach workers and help them implement:

1. Set reasonable expectations

Goals and plans for each intervention vary widely. Be a resource for workers for case planning. Do the goals reflect the highest priorities for the family situation? Can they be achieved in the time available? Does the worker have the resources needed to help the family achieve these goals?

2. Make a plan

Each person has their own way of dealing with long hours, hard work and stress. Talk with workers about what works for them. Make a plan with the worker for self-care that is individualized and specific. What does the worker do to restore their energy? What activities can they incorporate into their day that makes things easier? What support do they want and need? Talking about it in advance and scheduling time and activities into the worker’s routine will avoid the slow leak of energy that leads to burnout.

3. Don’t do it alone

Ensure that your workers know that they are part of a team. Encourage them to use team members for creative intervention ideas, support in hard situations and back-up. Remind them this is a team effort. Encourage them to use you as a resource as often as they need.

4. Check in often

It isn’t enough to tell the worker to call if they want. Set times that you want them to check in with you. It will vary based on the dynamics of the cases they have. Make it part of the routine, not just something for emergencies.

5. Ask for help

Set the expectation that asking for help is a good thing, not an indication that the worker can’t handle things alone.

6. Healthy thinking

Fatigue and stress can lead to “ain’t it awful” thinking and complaining. Workers need an opportunity to vent and need you to be there to listen and help them reframe. It may also be helpful to strategize with workers ways to make productive changes in their thinking and their actions that will help them feel better and less stressed.

7. Change gears

Encourage workers to take down time. Doing something completely different from their work routine can give them the physical, emotional and mental break they need to restore their energy. A 20 minute nap in the car, reading a novel during lunch, taking a walk in a local park, doing 5 minutes of yoga stretches, watching a funny YouTube video can restore energy and give fresh perspective. Workers may need support in taking time for themselves during the day.

8. Take a break

Vacation is a key element in staying emotionally, mentally and physically strong. It’s important to get away whether it’s a trip, a long weekend at home, or doing something fun with friends and family. Remind workers that taking time to restore is part of the job too.

9. Catch things early

Make sure workers know their personal early warning signs of stress and fatigue. Talk to workers in advance about the indicators that let them know it’s time to ask for help, take a break or just let you know how they are feeling.

10. Celebrate success

IFPS workers make a difference in the lives of families and contribute to strong communities. Find ways to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments—both big and small. Remind workers to pat themselves on the back for their successes.

Posted by Peg Marckworth