This month the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced that Abt Associates will serve as the clearinghouse that establishes the list of evidence-based programs approved for use under the Family First Prevention Services Act. The clearinghouse plays a critical role because federal matching funds of 50% will be available only to programs on the clearinghouse list. The Family First legislation defines three levels of evidence-based programs and each level requires that a comparison group be included in the research studies.
Let’s look at an example of a comparison group using Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) as the program in a large-scale study that was conducted in the state of North Carolina.
The study employed a retrospective design meaning no one had prior knowledge of the study and thus no opportunity to influence the data or case practice that could interfere with the reliability of the findings.
The study included 1,265 children who received IFPS services compared to over 110,000 children who did not receive IFPS but did receive other services. The children receiving IFPS were at higher risk than the comparison group in terms of risk assessment, prior substantiated reports of child abuse/neglect, and prior out-of-home placement.
Despite the high-risk factors of the children receiving IFPS, these children had 20-30% fewer out-of-home placements than the comparison group throughout the entire measurement period.
The study did find that the treatment effect of IFPS may diminish post-treatment and recommended that follow-up services be offered 4 to 6 months post-intervention. Most exemplary IFPS programs now provide booster sessions or step-down services.
The Family First Prevention Services Act is ideally suited for IFPS programs because the children eligible for the Family First services must be at imminent risk of entering out-of-home placement, the same criteria used for IFPS services. It’s too early to know which IFPS programs will meet the criteria to be included in the list that the clearinghouse develops. But IFPS program administrators and contracted providers can anticipate that funders and policy makers will ask whether or not their IFPS program is evidence-based. A good starting point is to refer inquirers to the research literature on IFPS.
The study referenced in this post is available here: http://www.nfpn.org/preservation/effectiveness-study
The author of the study, Ray Kirk, also has a PowerPoint summary of 4 IFPS studies that he presented at the National Child Welfare Evaluation Summit: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/capacity/program-evaluation/summit-2011/session3
Posted by Priscilla Martens
NFPN Executive Director