Family Preservation and Evidence-Based Practice

The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was founded in 1992 to serve as the primary national voice for the preservation of families. At that time, our voice promoted Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). These services are targeted to families with children at imminent risk of placement in foster care. The first comprehensive evaluation of IFPS was funded by the federal government in 1989. Findings included that families showed improvements on 26 of 28 problems affecting family functioning.

Thirty years after that study states are planning implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act targeted to families with children at risk of imminent placement in foster care. We’ve come full circle! What have we learned through research in the past 30 years about preserving families and preventing unnecessary placement of children?

The earliest research on IFPS was quite favorable but subsequent research in the early 1990’s was flawed with respect to design and implementation. From about 2000 on, research has found IFPS to be effective in terms of placement prevention and cost-effective in comparison to the costs of foster and residential care. NFPN has conducted 6 research studies involving IFPS, all of them demonstrating the effectiveness of IFPS.

IFPS has also been used as a successful intervention with reunifying families. The earliest study, conducted in 1995, had a treatment and control group. Families received IFPS services for 90 days. At the end of the intervention, 92% of the treatment group had returned home compared to 28% of the control group.
For an overview of research on IFPS for both preservation and reunification, see the section “Research on IFPS” in the IFPS ToolKit: http://www.nfpn.org/preservation/ifps-toolkit

Recall that the first study of IFPS included measures of family functioning. Dr. Ray Kirk (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) designed a family functioning tool for IFPS, the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale (NCFAS). NFPN partnered with Dr. Kirk on subsequent versions of the tool, including one of the first assessment tools for reunifying families. There is a wide body of research on the assessment tools establishing their reliability and validity. NFPN has conducted 7 research studies, all successful, involving the NCFAS tools. For an overview of the studies on the NCFAS assessment tools visit http://www.nfpn.org/assessment-tools/ncfases-scale-development-report

The Family First Prevention Services Act requires that all programs receiving the 50% federal matching funds meet Evidence-Based Practice criteria. The issue for IFPS programs is that in recent years states have largely developed their own models that are not yet validated as Evidence-Based Practice through research findings. Thus, states will need to conduct research studies in order to establish their IFPS programs as Evidence-Based Practice and qualify for the federal funding.

NFPN stands ready to assist states in this endeavor. Please contact Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, director@nfpn.org, 888-498-9047.

Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director

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