Category Archives: IFPS Practice

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:

Federal Support for IFPS

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of IFPS includes celebrating several key federal programs that provide support for IFPS.

The first is the Family Preservation and Support Services Program enacted by Congress in 1993. This federal program was later changed to Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF). The PSSF program was most recently reauthorized in 2011 for a period of five years. There are currently four categories of services that can be funded through PSSF:

  • Family preservation services
  • Family support services
  • Time-limited family reunification services
  • Adoption promotion and support services

For FY 2013 the total amount of funding was approximately $310.8 million. States are required to spend 20% for each of the four categories unless they provide a rationale for spending less. Administrative costs cannot exceed 10%. The following chart shows how states planned to allocate expenditures for the most recent fiscal year:

Promoting Safe and Stable Families FY 2013 Planned Expeditures

In addition to the four categories of funding, the PSSF program also provides funding to ensure that children in foster care are visited monthly by their caseworkers, grants to increase the well-being and permanency of children affected by substance abuse, and authorization for up to 10 new child welfare waiver demonstration projects per year (Title IV-E Waivers).

Federal child welfare waivers are important because they allow states more flexible use of federal funds to improve child welfare services. Funds that ordinarily would be used only for children in out-of-home placement can also be used for preventive services.

A Title IV-E Waiver is being used to expand IFPS (Homebuilders®) in Washington State. The centerpiece of Washington State’s demonstration project—implementing a differential response to allegations of child abuse or neglect—is intended to provide supports and services needed to keep children who are alleged to be abused or neglected safely in their own homes. One purpose of the project is to prevent and reduce out-of-home placements. The goals and purposes for differential response are closely tied to the expansion of IFPS.

According to the waiver application, past outcomes experienced by Washington State specific to Intensive Family Preservation Services using the Homebuilders® model include:

  • Appropriate connection of families to community resources;
  • Avoidance of new referrals to the department for Child Protective Services, Child and Family Welfare Services, or Family Response Services within one year of the most recent IFPS case closure by the department;
  • Prevention of placement or achievement of placement stabilization or reunification in 95 percent of cases;
  • Reduction in the length of stay in out-of-home placement, for reunification cases;
  • Reduction in level of risk factors as indicated by North Carolina Family Assessment Scale;
  • Prevention of reentry into out-of-home placement for over 75 percent of cases during the six months following termination of services.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services anticipates that expanding IFPS services by 10% will save $1 million during the five-year project.

The next time you contact your federal senator or congressional representatives, thank them for enacting PSSF and Title IV-E Waivers!

(Eileen West, ACF/Children’s Bureau, contributed information about the PSSF program.)


Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, National Family Preservation Network

Protective Factors

In a February 2014 Issue Brief, the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information and resources on protective factors.

According to this brief, protective factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that mitigate risk and promote healthy development and well-being.

Put simply, they are the strengths that help to buffer and support families at risk. This definition could also describe IFPS services, indicating that IFPS and protective factors are interrelated.

Protective factors build on a family’s strengths, just as IFPS does. Here are the five key protective factors, as developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy:

  • Parental Resilience
  • Social Connections
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Social-Emotional Competence of Children

Now, let’s see if there is a corollary for these 5 factors in IFPS services:

  • Parental Resilience: IFPS emphasizes home-based services focusing on developing parental coping abilities so that children can safely remain in their homes.
  • Social Connections: IFPS is a brief service so it is important to link families to social and community connections that will provide long-term support for the family.
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: IFPS therapists devote considerable time to teaching skills to parents that are based on the child’s age and development.
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need: One of the earliest and most consistent findings of IFPS research is the impact of concrete services on successful outcomes.
  • Social-Emotional Competence of Children: IFPS views children as integral members of the family who are included in planning and receiving services, and whose increased social and emotional well-being are critical in keeping families together.

Research on protective factors shows a subset that are are of particular interest to IFPS services because they have the strongest empirical support as shown in the following chart:

Protective Factors with the Strongest Evidence

The following are definitions for some of the individual protective factors:

  • Selfregulation skills refer to ability to manage or control emotions and behaviors, which can include anger management, character, long‐term self‐control, and emotional intelligence.
  • Relational skills refer to ability to form positive bonds and connections (e.g., social competence, being caring, forming prosocial relationships) and interpersonal skills (e.g., communication skills and conflict‐resolution skills).
  • Problemsolving skills refer to adaptive functioning skills and ability to solve problems.

Self‐regulation skills, relational skills, and problem‐solving skills are related to positive outcomes such as resiliency, having supportive friends, positive academic performance, improved cognitive functioning, and better social skills. They are also related to reductions in post‐traumatic stress disorder, stress, anxiety, depression, and delinquency.

Now, share how you develop protective factors with your IFPS families!


To view the Issue Brief on Protective Factors, visit:
To view the research on Protective Factors, see:
(PDF, 512, Kb)
Here’s a creative portrayal of protective factors and definitions:—Emotional-Competence-of-Children.html


Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, National Family Preservation Network

IFPS Nationwide Survey

1992_2014_ifps_reportsThe National Family Preservation (NFPN) has conducted nationwide surveys of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) in 1994, 2007, 2011, and now 2014. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of IFPS (Homebuilders® model) so NFPN is publishing a special survey edition. Here are the highlights:

In the first nationwide survey of IFPS in 1994 a half-dozen states reported they had implemented the Homebuilders® model of IFPS on a statewide basis (75% or more of counties). Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, and Michigan have continuously provided IFPS while Tennessee and Louisiana discontinued IFPS for a period of time. Twenty years later 12 states responding to the survey have a statewide model of IFPS based on the Homebuilders® model.

  • The 12 exemplary states report that they serve 11,364 families annually.
  • Seven of the 12 exemplary states require 30 or more hours of initial training on IFPS while eight states require ongoing training.

What others have said about the Homebuilders® model of IFPS:

“Many people who argue for the removal of children see the damage which has been done by abusive or neglectful parents. I can understand that. However, they are not around to see the long-term damage to children that can result from acting hastily or unnecessarily to remove them from their families. They also do not see the enormous successes that have resulted from our family preservation efforts, even sometimes with families once thought to be beyond hope. We hear from many families (96 percent in the latest study) that family preservation is exactly what they needed to help them deal with their problems-and they would recommend it for other families.”

— Gerald Miller, Director, Michigan Department of Social Services, Detroit News, August 27, 1993.


“It is a timeless model that encourages and supports the fundamental belief that all children need and deserve a family.”

— Douglas Nelson, Retired President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation).


“Family preservation services appeal to our better side. With their constant commitment to the strengths, not weaknesses, of families in trouble, they are proving that most families can learn to stay together, that people can change.”

— Bill Moyers, Families First, PBS documentary

Here’s a glimpse at the future of IFPS:

NFPN and the Institute for Family Development (IFD) are jointly developing an IFPS Repository. The website will serve as the electronic library for irreplaceable memorabilia and documents from the past, current documents that are critical to retaining and expanding the knowledge base of IFPS, and room for growth to add more documents in the future.

And, here’s the last word in honor of the 40th anniversary of IFPS:

The Homebuilders® model of IFPS services is the most important development in the history of services to families.

Demonstrating that the most challenging families can safely remain together, offering these families unlimited access to intensive services, treating them as partners, and anticipating that they can and will change in a brief period of time is an audacious undertaking.

And one that has withstood the test of time.

To view the complete IFPS Survey Report, visit:


Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director
National Family Preservation Network

What a Field Placement in IFPS Offers Students

A field placement with an Intensive Family Preservation Services agency gives students a unique experience in child welfare. The structure of IFPS interventions, including their intensity, can broaden, accelerate and integrate the student’s classroom learning.

The primary goal of an IFPS field placement is to learn how to provide short-term, intensive, home-based interventions with children and families. A major focus is learning and practicing interventions skills designed to help families resolve problems that put them at risk of disruption through placement of a child.

The field placement offers an opportunity for students to integrate their classroom learning. Theory, policy, and practice come together under the guidance of skilled IFPS agency staff. Students learn a variety of intervention skills that benefit their capabilities as clinicians whether in family preservation or other practice areas.

Skills learned in an IFPS field placement include:

  • Engaging clients quickly
  • Motivating clients to participate in counseling
  • Assessing and utilizing client strengths
  • Assessing family/individual functioning levels and problem areas
  • Assessing the risk of child abuse, neglect, family violence and self-harm
  • Structuring the family situation to prevent violence
  • Defusing potentially violent situations
  • Providing support through active listening, affirmations, availability and resource mobilization
  • Teaching skills using cognitive behavioral techniques including: communication, parenting, mood management, behavioral management, problem solving, decision making, negotiation, and assertiveness
  • Developing therapist self-care strategies and skills

Not all students will find a field placement in IFPS a good fit for them. Students benefit from a complete understanding of the benefits and demands of a field placement in IFPS before selecting the placement. Some characteristics are associated with greater student success and satisfaction in an IFPS field placement:

  • Commitment to the goals, values and strategies of family preservation services.
  • A belief that, in most cases, the best place for children is with their natural families and that IFPS can help achieve that goal while keeping children and other family members safe.
  • Seeing the value of working with clients as colleagues and believing that people are capable of making significant changes in their behavior.
  • Openness to diversity.
  • Flexibility and availability to see families outside normal field placement days, including evenings and weekends.
  • An understanding of the need to be available to clients in crisis situations, either in person or by phone.


Posted by Peg Marckworth

North Carolina IFPS Training

Two weeks ago, we looked at the IFPS new worker training offered in New Jersey. (See IFPS in a University Setting.) This week we look at the training provided in North Carolina. Both North Carolina and New Jersey offer six days of training:

North Carolina Training

Family-Centered Practice in Family Preservation Programs is a six-day specialized curriculum designed for family preservation and other home-based services workers, which provides instruction in the skills necessary for a successful in-home intervention.

Day One begins with an introduction to six principles of partnership that enhance a worker’s ability to provide family-centered services. Next is an overview of the training which follows the family preservation and reunification process through the Family Intervention Cycle. This includes seven stages of engaging families:

  1. Joining: screening and intake, relationship-building
  2. Discovery: assessment, reduction of resistance, setting goals
  3. The Change Process: treatment
  4. Celebration
  5. Closure
  6. Reflection: evaluation
  7. Follow-up.

The IFPS model is introduced and its components are defined through reviews of policies and procedures, the history of IFPS in North Carolina, a video of IFPS in action, and outcome data. The role of cultural competency in IFPS is examined, and the day ends with participants practicing with case studies to determine whether or not they meet IFPS, FPS, or RS standards.

Day Two is spent examining the Joining Process, which includes developing relationships and how to get started with a family. The introduction of a “toolbox” on this day offers participants a visual tracking of skills, techniques or tools that will be presented throughout the training. The day ends with an introduction to two “practice” families which the group will track throughout the remainder of the training. One case study focuses on an IFPS/FPS and the other tracks an RS family.

Day Three provides an opportunity for each participant to begin to practice tools and concepts presented in the curriculum by applying them to the two case study families. This day focuses on the Discovery Process, and participants are asked to practice looking for assessment information through the use of video clips of the family. Multiple tools for discovery are presented and practiced.

Day Four begins with an examination of how family strengths can be used in the intervention process. Next, participants are presented with multiple tools for setting goals with families, then role play goal-setting with the two case study families. Record keeping is introduced and is tracked throughout by the use of sample client files for the two practice families. The Change Process is introduced on this day and the first two of five strategies for helping families change are reviewed: Changing Behavior and Improving Parenting Skills. The rest of the day is spent looking at behavior management and improving parenting skills. Throughout the day, participants are introduced to new tools and are given opportunities to practice them with the case study families.

Day Five continues with the Change Process by focusing on the remaining three strategies for helping families change: Examining Family Dynamics, Enhancing Communication, and Connecting with Resources. Practice opportunities continue throughout the day as the “toolbox” continues to grow.

Day Six begins with Celebrating Change which focuses on helping families improve during the intervention and move on after case closure. The curriculum focuses on evaluating the family plan, looking at ethical and safety issues related to IFPS/FPS/RS, writing crisis intervention and safety plans, and examining case closure procedures as well as follow-up requirements. The day ends with looking at options for transitioning families to follow-up care and connecting them with resources.
Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, National Family Preservation Network

IFPS In a University Setting

Since the inception of IFPS 40 years ago, advocates have discussed how best to transmit the IFPS knowledge base into social work education.

In the early days of IFPS, the strategy in schools of social work was for students to develop a generalist practice base first and then move into an area of advanced specialization. Current practice allows for specialization earlier in the process.

The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute focuses on students who are preparing for a career in child welfare. From 2009–2013, 300 students received financial support to obtain a BSW or MSW. Many of them are or have been employed in the child welfare field as they work towards an advanced degree. A dozen universities partner with the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute to train students.

Universities offering a specialty in child welfare generally offer one session on family preservation or, at most, one course. Rutgers University has consistently set the academic standard for coursework through initial and ongoing training to IFPS students and therapists.

Click the link below to download a description of the six-day coursework offered to all new IFPS therapists:
(PDF, 135 Kb)

Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director, National Family Preservation Network