When we’ve known about something for a long time, we may gain a new perspective by looking at it through a different lens. Many of us are familiar with Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), one of the most effective models of in-home services and one that has been in existence for over 40 years. Assessment of families has only been a focus for about that half that time and yet assessment and preserving families have become inextricably linked. So let’s look at preserving families through the lens of assessment.
An assessment tool specifically designed for IFPS appeared in the late 90’s. The North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS) was developed by a researcher (Dr. Ray Kirk) at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill with the input of IFPS workers. These workers then tested the tool by using it with their IFPS families. The IFPS workers thus directly contributed to establishing the initial reliability and validity of the NCFAS, meaning that the tool was accurate and consistent and measured what it was designed to measure.
The tool was designed to measure family functioning. Workers use the tool to identify strengths and weaknesses of the family, prioritize goals, match needs to services, and monitor progress. The original outcome measure for IFPS was placement prevention but the difficulty with that lies not only in trying to prove a negative but in not having any positive measure of change in the family. Because IFPS is an intervention for high-risk families with multiple problems, it’s essential to know how these services impact the family in important areas such as safety, parenting, child well-being, etc.
The original NCFAS is a pre/post measure of family functioning in the areas of environment, parental capabilities, family interactions, safety, and child well-being. Based on the numerical difference of ratings from case opening to case closure, the family’s progress is measured in terms of progress, no progress, or regressing on the scale. Through subscales, the ratings provide specific information within a domain such as supervision of children, use of drugs/alcohol interfere with parenting as well as an overall rating on that domain (in this case parental capabilities). If families have made no progress or perhaps even regressed, the worker can identify where additional services are needed. Regression is also highly correlated with subsequent out-of-home placement.
The NCFAS tool was followed by the NCFAS-R for use with reunifying families. The “R” domains of Caregiver/Child Ambivalence and Readiness are critical elements of reunification and the ratings are closely tied to successful or failed reunifications. The NCFAS-R is one of the few reliable and valid tools available for use with reunifying families.
Another version of the tool, the NCFAS-G, added the domains of social/community life, self-sufficiency, and family health. The most commonly used tool combines all 10 of the domains into the NCFAS-G+R.
The most recent addition is the Trauma/Post-Trauma Well-Being domains which address the need and mandate for trauma-informed practice.
NFPN has conducted five studies on the tools with family preservation programs and in each study both the tools and the programs performed well. The assessment tools and family preservation services are intertwined in understanding families, prioritizing goals and services, monitoring progress, data collection, evaluation, and research. They have become inseparable!
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director