Monthly Archives: September 2014

New Resources for Families Involved in Substance Abuse

A just-released brief from the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) states that nationwide 11% of children live in a home where at least one parent has a substance abuse disorder. However, two-thirds of children in foster care come from homes with a parent with a substance-abusing problem. Parental substance abuse is the second highest reason for termination of parental rights.

While there are no nationwide data available on the number of substance affected families receiving services through IFPS, there is a wide range of families served. Some child welfare agencies do not refer substance affected families to IFPS while other agencies refer many families. An IFPS program in Tennessee is dealing exclusively with substance affected families in a federally funded project and will have extensive findings of results within a few years.

What is being done to help the most vulnerable families involved in substance abuse?

While there is a widespread belief that treatment slots are not available, the SPARC report indicates a careful analysis reveals that as little as 5% of all treatment slots could serve all parents in the child welfare system who need it.

Five practice innovations are being used in the child welfare system to address substance abuse:

  1. Screening of Parents: Four states (ME, OK, Fl, NJ) have adopted universal screening methods.
  2. Screening and Assessment of Children for the Effects of Substance Abuse: Federal law requires screening and assessment for children under age 3 and states are beginning to implement processes.
  3. Parent Support: Recovery coaches and peer advisers are forms of parental support that are helping parents to successfully complete treatment.
  4. Evidence-Based Programs: Celebrating Families, Strengthening Families, and PCIT are some of the recommended programs.
  5. Training the Workforce: Over 55,000 workers have signed up for online training offered by the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

Family Drug Courts

Family Drug Court is an approach to substance abuse deserving special mention. Phil Breitenbucher, Program Director of the Center for Children and Family Futures, says that there are 346 family drug courts serving over 19,000 families nationwide. Judges created drug courts in 1995 to address substance abuse within the child welfare system.

Compared to individual treatment systems alone, family drug courts’ positive outcomes include:

  • significantly higher rates of parental participation in substance abuse treatment,
  • longer stays in treatment,
  • higher rates of family reunification, and
  • fewer children in foster care.

A detailed manual for developing family drug courts is available here:
(PDF format, 2.4 Mb)

Substance Abuse and Trauma

Often accompanying substance abuse is trauma. One study showed a high correlation between substance abuse disorders in women and PTSD, most commonly resulting from a history of childhood physical and sexual abuse. Parents may exhibit:

  • inconsistent, irritable, explosive, or inflexible discipline;
  • low supervision and involvement;
  • little nurturance;
  • tolerance of youth substance abuse.

In turn, children are much more likely to be traumatized in a home with substance-abusing parents.

How can this cycle be changed?

Seeking Safety is a therapy designed for families experiencing both substance abuse and trauma. Details are available on their website:

There are new and exciting resources that can aid families involved in substance abuse. There is hope and help for these families!

Posted by Priscilla Martens, Director, National Family Preservation Network

For more information on substance abuse and trauma, view this PowerPoint presentation:
(PDF format, 1.2 Mb)

To view the SPARC brief, visit:

For additional information on drug courts, see The Judges’ Page newsletter, published by the National CASA Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges:

IFPS Blog—Is IFPS Relevant Today?

As IFPS (Homebuilders® model) celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, it’s appropriate to ask if IFPS is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.

Let’s compare IFPS today with past years:

Then Now
Washington State was the first to implement IFPS Homebuilders® (1974)IFPS had been implemented in at least 75% of counties in 6 states (1994) IFPS has been implemented statewide in 12 states with implementation underway in two additional states (2014)
IFPS Homebuilders® served 54 families (1974)IFPS programs in 16 states serve 16,229 families (1994) Exemplary IFPS programs in 12 states serve 11,542 families (2014)
There was only one state with a Homebuilders® program (1974)Most states follow the Homebuilders® model (1994) Strong IFPS states follow the Homebuilders® model (2014)
IFPS (Homebuilders® model) saves $2.54 for every dollar invested (2006) IFPS (Homebuilders® model) saves $4.49 for every dollar invested (2013)
There is no definitive research on which models of IFPS are most effective Research shows that only the Homebuilders® model of IFPS has demonstrated effectiveness
The supervisor’s role is critically important for training therapists, modeling best practice, and case consultation The supervisor’s role is critically important for training therapists, modeling best practice, case consultation, and quality assurance
Low caseloads, availability to families 24/7, high number of face-to-face hours with families, and short-term services are hallmarks of IFPS Low caseloads, availability to families 24/7, high number of face-to-face hours with families, and short-term services are hallmarks of IFPS
IFPS emphasizes evidence-based practice IFPS (Homebuilders® model) is a proven, evidence-based practice listed on registries of EBPs
IFPS includes the provision of concrete services (rent, utilities, car repair, etc.) IFPS includes the provision of concrete services, and studies show that concrete services contribute to the effectiveness of IFPS
Families are colleagues Families are colleagues, family strengths are assessed, and all in-home services have adopted this philosophy
Safety of children is the highest priority Safety of children is the highest priority, and there are only a few documented deaths during IFPS interventions over the past decades
IFPS is an innovative service, focused on the family as a whole, and aimed at keeping families safely together instead of rescuing children IFPS continues to focus on the family as a whole and keeping families safely together. IFPS is now an enduring, evidence-based practice whose values, standards, methods of engaging families, model fidelity, and quality assurance are widely imitated by child- and family-serving agencies


Posted by Charlotte Booth, Executive Director, Institute for Family Development

Elizabeth (Betsy) S. Cole: What Family Preservation Services Mean To Me

Judge Richard (Fitz) FitzgeraldI first learned about Family Preservation Services in the early 1980’s while I was at the Child Welfare League of America working on projects focused on Adoption and Permanency Planning. I was elated and skeptical at the same time. I cheered at the immediate (within 24 hours) response to referrals, concern for the child’s safety and the focus on the family as a unit and their relationship to the community and that the services would be given in that home and community. It made so much sense for the worker to be there day and night. And yes, how could they do this if they didn’t have a caseload of two. How great it would be to have an in depth evaluation by skilled staff who had seen first-hand how the family functions. Wouldn’t this satisfy all the courts that wanted more? But I didn’t know how much you could really accomplish with our families in two months. These were the kinds of families we had seen for years of continuous non-service. Could episodic help really help? Did families get referred on?

I spent the first fifteen years of my career as a social worker, supervisor and administrator in a public child welfare agency in New Jersey. With a liberal arts bachelor’s degree and one year of law school, I wanted to be an advocate for children and their families because I had worked with poor children in my college summers and knew they needed help.

I quickly learned, as a beginning caseworker in 1961 with a foster care caseload of 50 kids, I wasn’t able to give them much help. I rarely saw their birth families and wouldn’t have known what to do with or for them if I had. By agency standards, I was doing a good job if the kids were safe and the foster parents had no complaints. But the situation was troubling to me and to the other workers. It seemed we and the children were running in place. The records didn’t really say clearly why the children were placed except that the parents had been neglectful or abusive and needed to improve their parenting and household management skills. When asked by the foster parents what the plan was for their children we had the boiler plate phrase—”the child would continue in care”.

Within two years, I was promoted to “Intake” worker—the person who went out after the initial complaint of abuse or neglect, evaluated the situation, decided whether we would take the case and made recommendations for service. If I had four hours combined interview time with the parents that was a lot.

Soon after getting my Master’s degree in Social work I became a supervisor of five caseworkers and an adoption worker. I saw my own experience replicated in those of my workers. I also became aware that we were all having difficulty getting a court to terminate parental rights and free children for adoption because we did not really know the parents and hadn’t worked intensively enough with them on their problems. High worker turnover, inexperienced and untrained staff and lack of a mandate to do this work were all contributing factors. In the late 60’s and early 70’s our agency had 50,000 children in foster care and the number was growing. By then I was Chief of Foster Care and Adoption Resources. Our function was to find families for our children. Our mission to get permanent families for our kids heightened our contacts with their birth families. The experience was eye opening and upsetting. We found birth parents and family members who were willing and able to take their children from foster care. We found parents, whose rights could have been terminated years ago, sparing their children numerous moves in foster care and emotional upset. These children could have found their permanent family when they were very young. Intensive and skilled services to their parents were at the top of a very long list of the things we should have being doing for our children and were not.

I retired in 1996. Long before that I had become a convert to intensive family preservation services. My doubts had been erased. It did what it promised. Families and children were helped How rare and wonderful is that for a social service?

No small credit for that goes to the Behavioral Science Institute’ founders and the current leadership of the Institute for Family Development: David Haapala, Jill Kinney, Charlotte Booth and Shelley Leavitt. I have a great deal of affection and admiration for you. You are the people whose vision, intelligence and passion have made all this possible. Your respect for your clients and their capacities infect your staff and the thousands you have trained. Your values are caught not taught.

Anyone who has ever done cutting edge work knows that it takes courage. You face your own doubts and some very hostile critics. I praise you for your strength. In the end, I suspect that strength comes from the knowledge that you are “Doing the right thing”. And doing it not for you but for others.

I wish you God speed.

Betsy Cole

Posted by Peg Marckworth

Judge Richard (Fitz) Fitzgerald: Reflections on the Intensive Family Preservation Initiative

Judge Richard (Fitz) FitzgeraldWhen I penned the scenario for an Edna McConnell Clark funded gathering of Judges, State Agency Executives and members of the Conference of State Legislatures, I tried to capture the whirlwind of change that had come about since the 1980s. I went on the bench in 1975 and was exposed to Judge John Steketee and Peter Forsythe’s work on judicial review of children in placement and the resistance of the judiciary and agency to take on that oversight role which was, at first, poorly defined.

With the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 it became federal policy and trickled down to the states. Because of Peter Forsythe and Edna McConnell Clark funding, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) Permanency Committee came to the table at a time when there was conflict between courts and agencies about the meaning and extent of authority over case plans and what were “reasonable efforts” expectations of best practice at each stage of the state’s intervention.

Publications such as Making Reasonable Efforts and a Reasonable Efforts Checklist helped overcome some resistance to change but a lot of court/agency mutual bashing existed. Questions like: “What are the limits of judicial authority?” (if any); “Who owns the case plan?” and objections to judicial intrusion into executive discretion led to “clobberation”.

The usual suspects—some of whom are with you today [at the IFPS 40th Anniversary Celebration]—Sue Kelly, Carol Williams Spigner, Betsy Cole, Frank Farrow, Len Edwards, Earnestine Gray supported by Peter Forsythe began to gather policy stakeholders in information sharing environments to move to a collaborative family and child focused system.

My support of the initiative comes from one of my deeply held legal considerations which was first articulated by a conservative supreme court in the 1940s—that when permissible governmental action abuts a fundamental right it must act with the least intrusive or restrictive alternative to meet the permissible government goal. The least restrictive alternative had been applied to mental health law and with some “status” offender issues regarding secure detention but not used to define “reasonable efforts” to prevent unnecessary removal and placement of children.

As I became aware of the work of The Institute for Family Development and the Homebuilders® model I saw the model as a powerful tool to meet the constitutional requirement of “reasonable efforts” and I spent time training judges about the model. The State’s interest in child protection which requires action abuts fundamental parental rights. While I may at times have been guilty of overselling the concepts of Peter Peccora and Charlotte Booth and the usual suspects who taught me and are gathered there today, I have no mea culpa as I saw in my own community and across systems the benefits to families of keeping families together by removing the risk rather than the child.

Fair Winds and a Following Sea,

Posted by Peg Marckworth