Category Archives: 40th Anniversary

2014, the 40th Anniversary of Intensive Family Preservation Services Draws to a Close

2014, the 40th Anniversary of Intensive Family Preservation Services is drawing to a close. This year has been an opportunity to look back at the beginning of Intensive Family Preservation Services, trace its growth, understand its incredible impact on child welfare and see where it is today.

2015 begins the next chapter of IFPS. We hope you join us on the IFPS Website and IFPS Blog as we document what IFPS is doing, where it is going and what we are learning.


ifps-recap-1In July present and past leaders in the IFPS movement from many national organizations (including Annie E. Casey Foundation, Childrifps-recap-2en’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, National Conference of State Legislators, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges) and from many states (Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Kentucky, Missouri, Washington) gathered in Seattle to celebrate and chronicle the history and stories of one of the most important systems reform initifps-recap-3iatives in child welfare in this country.ifps-recap-4

Attendees shared their knowledge and experiences as the group reviewed the contribution of IFPS to child welfare, how its implementation impacted child welfare, and what it offers for the future.

ifps-recap-5Charlotte Booth, Executive Director of the Institute for Family Development opened the IFPS 40th anniversary celebration with a welcome and shared why the IFPS initiative is so significant in child welfare:

“We are here today to celebrate and document the most brilliantly conceived and executed system change effort I have ever seen, let alone had the honor of being part of. In fact, while I’ve been calling it an “initiative,” that’s not quite the right word. Revolution or reformation might better express the magnitude of what was done.”

She explained that this day was an opportunity to see how all the different aspects of the initiative wove together and the outcomes that make family preservation what it is today: “…we want to document this information not just to paint a picture of the past, but to create a blueprint for the new generation of child welfare leaders and policy makers…”

IFPS 40th Anniversary Remarks by Charlotte Booth

Peter Forsythe, Children’s Program Director at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation provided leadership for the intensive family preservation initiative. Between 1985 and 1995 the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation supported intensive family preservation services helping more than 30 states adopt the Homebuilders™ model.

Peter Forsythe attended the 40th Anniversary and had this reaction: “I sat with wonder today ifps-recap-6as I let you guys catch me up on 20 years of time in the hills and being unconnected with what’s gone on since I retired from the Clark Foundation, and it was a marvelous day to have a chance to learn these things, and I marvel at the strength and the creativity and the resilience of this team that you guys are…[This] cause has gone forward, and I’m just incredibly proud of what you have continued to do.”



The IFPS website was launched at the July celebration. The website is designed as a resource for those interested and working in IFPS. It archives IFPS’ history and will continue to document its growth and impact.

The website includes key resources for IFPS, including a comprehensive bibliography and the 2014 Nationwide IFPS Survey Report.

You can also read more about the July 40th Anniversary Celebration and see photos from the event.


Throughout the year the IFPS blog has highlighted both the history and the future of IFPS. Posts have covered IFPS Practice, Research, State Profiles, IFPS in Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

Pioneers and experts in the field of family preservation services shared their thoughts, memories and wisdom—excerpted here with links to their full posts:

Jim Whittaker, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington School of Social Work:

ifps-recap-7“What then are the defining characteristics/components of intensive family preservation services? The first is a set of values and beliefs. Variously stated and as referenced earlier, they all speak to the notion of “family” as the ideal locus for child rearing and family support. Parents are viewed collegially, crises are viewed as opportunities for change, families are presumed to be doing the best they can under difficult circumstances, and caution is urged in labeling families as untreatable. While this particular set of values originates from the Homebuilders program, perhaps the best known of all of the family preservation models, the expressed values reflect the larger and more diverse array of family preservation programs as well.”

The Elegant Simplicity of Family Preservation Practice Legacies and Lessons

Judge Richard Fitzgerald:

ifps-recap-8“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.”

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

Shelley Leavitt:

“Iifps-recap-9n 1994, Priscilla Martens, Director of the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN), surveyed states to gather information about statewide implementation of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). Some of you may recall that at one time, these services were called “family preservation services”—FPS, and then later (I can’t recall when), the “I”—Intensive” was added and these services became Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). In some states these services are still referred to as “family preservation”, and in others, “intensive family preservation”.

In 1994, the survey showed that a half dozen states had implemented IFPS/FPS statewide. This was pretty amazing. After a fairly short time—less than 8 years—statewide implementation was achieved in a number of states. This accomplishment was the direct result of Peter Forsythe’s vision and strategic approach to systems change, and the work of many of you here today, who were involved at many different levels.”

Shelley Leavitt: What’s Happening Today in IFPS and HOMEBUILDERS®

Betsy Cole:

“Anifps-recap-10yone 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.”

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


Posted by Peg Marckworth


Field Placement Experiences in IFPS

Peg MarkworthWhen I was getting my Masters in Social Work, my advisor suggested a field placement at Homebuilders™. At that point I had no idea what Homebuilders™ was, what kinds of interventions they provided, or what skills I might learn. I’d never actually worked with a family in their home. It turned out to be an incredible experience—an introduction to a set of values about families as well as the opportunity to learn skills and interventions that truly helped families. That was the start of my IFPS career. After I finished my MSW I went to work for Homebuilders™. A few years later I joined the Family Preservation Practice Project, a collaboration between the University of Washington School of Social Work and Behavioral Sciences Institute, which developed the Homebuilders™ program. That project gave me the opportunity to have one foot in the clinical side and one foot in the academic side of IFPS.

The Family Preservation Practice Project offered a group of MSW students a concentration of studies in Family Preservation Services. I worked with staff and faculty from the School of Social Work to develop curriculum that taught the philosophy, theory, research, and skills of family preservation. Each student in the project had a field placement at Homebuilders™. Although Homebuilders™ had offered field placements for a number of years, the project offered an opportunity to hone that experience for students by adding Master’s level courses in conjunction with field placements.

One of the goals of the project was to develop students who could step easily into family preservation programs. At the same time we recognized that some students in the Family Preservation Practice Project would not continue in this field, but would go on to other jobs in other clinical situations. We quickly realized they would do so with an understanding of the value of IFPS and a set of skills that would serve them well in their chosen practice.

The structure of IFPS, its focus on evidence-based practice and the intensity of the intervention created a unique experience for these students. The Family Preservation Practice Project, through its curriculum and classroom experience, prepared students for their field placement experience. The field placement broadened, accelerated and integrated the classroom learning.

Certainly, the focus of the field placement was to provide an opportunity for students to put what they were learning in the classroom into practice, but it wasn’t a direct translation. The students learned what it means to walk into a family’s home with the ability to respond to what was going on that day—to understand that you may have a plan but the situation might need another direction. Students learned to have the flexibility to step back and say, for example, “Here, give me the broom. I’ll sweep the floor while you change the baby’s diapers. Don’t worry about it. Yes, we have an appointment, but we can do this while we talk.” For many students, that ability was a major step to take—to understand what it means to be present with a family, while observing, teaching and helping them go through their day-to-day life.

We had the advantage in The Family Preservation Practice Project of having Homebuilders™ therapists—very experienced Homebuilders™ therapists—teaching and guiding students through their field placements.

One of the things we heard from those students was that an amazing part of the experience was having a relationship with practicum instructors who were: 1) skilled practitioners on the front line, 2) who fully understood the integration of theory and practice, and 3) were skills-based and evidence-based in how they thought, approached students, and worked with families.

Students in the Family Preservation Practice Project came in with a real interest in family preservation but no real understanding of the evidence-based Homebuilders™ model. They graduated from the program after going through both the classroom process and the field placement with an understanding of:

  • The rationale for family preservation services
  • Current policy context and policy initiatives for family preservation
  • The value base of family preservation
  • Theory bases underlying family preservation
  • Theoretical and practical knowledge of the Homebuilders model™
  • Culturally responsive family preservation practice
  • Basic skills needed by family preservation practitioners


Posted by Peg Marckworth

A Bibliography of Intensive Family Preservation Services

The 40th Anniversary of IFPS provided an opportunity to compile a bibliography that best represents the history, impact, and effectiveness of intensive family preservation services. We want everyone involved in IFPS to be aware of the most important documents in this field. You can view the IPFS biography here.


History of IFPS
Let’s begin with the history of IFPS. Portions of the earliest history of IFPS have now been preserved through reflections of the key players, and are available on the IFPS Website here.

And then there is IFPS—the movie! PBS did a special documentary on IFPS in 1992.

In the early days IFPS had its own publication, the Family Preservation Journal. All of the journal articles have been digitized and can be accessed for free. It’s a quick and easy way to review much of the history of IFPS. Here is the link to the first issue: (PDF, 10.6 MB)

Impact of IFPS
How did we know if IFPS was having an impact in “pre-viral” times? Take a look in the bibliography at the prestigious groups that wrote about IFPS:

  • Child Welfare League of America
  • Children’s Defense Fund
  • National Conference of State Legislatures
  • Center for the Study of Social Policy
  • Universities
  • Media

The articles by Frank Farrow and Jim Whittaker provide good summaries of the impact of IFPS.

Effectiveness of IFPS
And, let’s not overlook the importance of the research that has established the effectiveness of IFPS. A lot of the early research is captured in the Family Preservation Journal. The gold standard for research—random control trials—was first conducted by Betty Blythe in Michigan, and you won’t want to miss reading the summary of the outstanding results.

Ray Kirk has conducted frequent studies of IFPS over the past two decades. Read Dr. Kirk’s seminal findings on IFPS here.

Last Word on Bibliographies
A bibliography is like a treasure that you unearth in your back yard: a pleasant surprise you weren’t looking for that becomes a valued keepsake you look at frequently!
Posted by Priscilla Martens, Director, National Family Preservation Network

Patrick McCarthy, Remarks at the IFPS 40th Anniversary, July 18, 2014

patrick-mccarthyI have to start with a disclaimer. Not only am I not the most qualified person in this room, by a long shot, to do a summary of everything that’s happening over the child welfare horizon, I’m not even the best person in the room from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to do this. Tracey Feild directs our Child Welfare Strategy Group and she knows an awful lot about this. I tried to give her wrong directions about how to get here so she wouldn’t have to sit through this, but she’s doing it anyway. So here I am and, in the next few minutes, I’m hoping to touch on some of the important developments I see going forward. I’ll stay at the tops-of-the-trees level and I’ll start with front-line practice.

As we’ve been discussing, there seems to be a reignited interest in intensive family-based services. Along with this I see a veritable explosion of interest in evidence-based interventions and in the related issues of fidelity and implementation science. I think this trend is worth encouraging if we get it right.

These evidence-based interventions are taking advantage of what we’re learning about brain development, about trauma, and about toxic stress and applying these science-based insights to child welfare practice. That is awfully important.   I also think we’re starting to see more recognition of the importance of training and other supports to ensure fidelity in implementation of skills that all or most evidence-based practices are calling upon.

What I mean here is that, if you look across the many specific, brand-name models and their dedicated manuals tied to discrete interventions, you see common themes. For me the best example is family engagement because it is core to just about everything else and so many evidence-based interventions, appropriately, put a lot of emphasis on getting that right. So what people are starting to figure out is how to train staff in those skills so that when a child or a family walks in with a particular problem that may not be exactly what one or another specific evidence-based intervention deals with, staff have the skills to help that are based on well-tested and well-developed approaches.

Team decision-making, which in its early days I think we would have talked about more as an administrative approach than a front-line practice, is now becoming much more focused on the practice skills to do it well. So it’s no longer just a check-the-box, we had a team decision-making meeting kind of thing, but it is coming increasingly under the heading of an important part of front-line practice and more attention is being paid to the actual quality of the practice.

We’ve been talking today about the increased focus on child well-being and along with that I’m seeing a reignited interest in measuring child well-being. If done properly, and we’re experimenting with this at Annie E. Casey, we can do a better job of matching both services and service provider to particular kinds of presenting issues and tracking who does what well. It would take a whole other conference to go deep enough on this, but I think we’re getting much closer than we were before to looking at which children ought to be in which kind of service for what kind of purpose.

An often neglected yet critically important element in good practice—and we haven’t talked much about it here—is ensuring that families have quality legal representation. Legal representation is an intervention that, all by itself, can change the game in terms of family and family voice.

The field has focused increasingly on kinship care, but in recent years I think we’re recognizing the need to go much deeper on what it takes to do it right. Instead of just placing a child in a kinship setting and then saying “OK, let us know if there’s a problem,” I see more thinking about what it takes to really support kin so they can be successful.

I see a whole range of practices emerging around older youth. As you know well, the experience of older youth in the system is very, very different than the experience of young children. Most of the data that we look at show that the older youth are coming in with a different set of problems, and I think we’re starting to understand what it takes to work with these older youth and their families.

Related to that, and this is a big, big, big issue for Annie E. Casey, is reducing reliance on congregate care. Use of it varies from under 5% of all the children in care in some states to over 30%, and I just can’t believe that the children in State X are that much different from the children in State Y. So that’s another big initiative for us.

Somewhat related to this, there is a whole range of financing issues that we are working on and advocating for. We think there are federal financing strategies that, if adopted, could actually drive down congregate care and deal with some of the length-of-stay issues.

One of the things that family preservation helped us do was to pay attention to the concrete and material needs of families. I think that is part of the reason that today we are seeing new models in supportive housing. Since housing and poverty drive so much of placement, if you can have a more effective supportive housing system in place, you can prevent lots of placements and get better outcomes for children.

This next one is a bit weird in some ways but hear me out. We’ve developed a family-based information system and I know we don’t often think of that as part of the equation. But a bad system trumps a good program any day of the week and if you don’t have good data and the data is not family-based, you won’t be thinking about families in the same way. So we’ve developed a Facebook-type information system that Indiana—and they are here—is the first state to use statewide in its child welfare system

I’m going to end by raising an issue that goes well beyond child welfare. One of the things that I think Peter [Forsythe] and others really did in launching the family preservation movement was to change the narrative, to change how we think about families who are at very high risk of coming to the attention of Child Welfare. I think the next frontier is actually an even more ambitious change in the narrative.

Back then, there was this tendency – and I think it still lingers – to see families as being in trouble because of what the rest of us saw as bad choices or bad character or bad parents, etc. What has happened in the intervening 25 years is that the economy has been really, really tough on working families. It has been so tough on working families that the group of families that are at risk of coming to the attention of child welfare has expanded exponentially. Now, as many as 45% of the children in our country are at risk because their families are facing circumstances that undermine even the best efforts to meet their children’s needs.

I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone was working class and no one had gone to college but pretty much everybody did okay. The reality would be far different in that same neighborhood today. Because of the erosion in earning power and undermining of financial security for lower income families, both of my parents and all my friends’ parents would be working multiple jobs. We would see an increase in family stress and a decrease in the bandwidth parents have for their children. We would see erosion in neighborhood ties. I would be growing up much poorer, more isolated, less likely to benefit from social supports beyond my family. This is the reality for as many as 45% of our nation’s children. I think we have to challenge ourselves to recognize how many families who come to the attention of the child welfare or other public systems find themselves in trouble not because of bad choices or flawed characters, but because we have failed to provide the supports many families now need to make it.

That’s my quick summary tour.

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