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What will be studied is the family preservation and reunification program. Family preservation and reunification programs are designed to help children and families, including extended and adoptive families that are at risk of abuse or are in crisis (White, 2001). Comprehensive family preservation programs started in mid-1970’s in response to an exponential increase in child abuse and neglect reporting and a similar exponential increase in foster care placements and the cost to public child welfare agencies of such placements.
Family preservations and reunification services go by many names, including in home services and family centered or family based services (Henggeler & Santos, 1997). The main aim of these programs is to preserve the integrity of the family, to prevent the unwanted placement of children in substitute care, to link the family with better community services and to increase the family coping skills and community functioning (Henggeler & Santos, 1997). According to Henggeler & Santos (1997) one of the earliest and best known of the family preservation services is the Homebuilders program, which was established in Tacoma, Washington in 1974. Since then this program has served as a model for the establishment of same type of programs in the entire country.
In addition, Reamer & Siegel (2008) noted that “family preservation and reunification programs involving both maltreated and delinquent children will be studied because increasing number of oppositional defiant children are referred to child welfare agencies and because important tests of family preservation have taken place in the juvenile justice system” (p. 88). Researchers limited their meta-analysis to studies with control or comparison groups.
Operationalization of Key Terms
Family preservation and reunification programs reflect the basic, socially efficient tenets of liberalism and its reliance on the social sciences for intervention truths. Epstein (1999) says that these programs at the centre of contemporary social work are also uniformly superficial in spite of their author’s claims. Permanency planning does not seem to have been achieved for an enormous number of children unless one accepts the questionable and professionally convenient irony that the great increase in foster care itself somehow realizes the expectations for permanency (Epstein, 1999).
Parent motivation plays a key role in successful reunification. Epstein (1999) says that the program should employ research design capable of testing the motivation of parents, comparison group and randomized controls that are significant to prove causation. He continues to say that impending assessment of the number of similar children who have reunified in the absence of intensive services.
Intensive services should be designed to achieve family preservation and reunification. Epstein (1999) says that “far from suggesting a promising solution for the problems of child welfare, the most credible evaluations of family preservation and reunification programs hint at only limited possibilities to enhance reunification through short term and relatively superficial supportive services” (p. 101). Epstein (1999) noted that a few hours of discussion, short lived relief from the strains of poverty, and a bit better housing may be intensive compared with the vagaries of customary state services.
There should be enthusiasm for reunification so as to have greater symbolic value in support of chauvinistic notion of the American family. Epstein (1999) says that, ironically, the reunified family is one of the few standards against which foster care compares favorably even while it provides an indictment of American compassion. According to Epstein (1999), the family preservation and reunification program should address the compelling point of skepticism that administrative fiat.
Why Should We Study Family Preservation and Unification Programs?
The need to study family preservation and unification programs arises from the fact that for more than a century child abuse and neglect have been conceptualized as a child welfare problem that is best responded to by the social service or child welfare system (White, 2001 p. 368). On the other hand the criminal justice system has operated on the periphery of child maltreatment hence the need for studying family preservation and unification programs.
Since child maltreatment has been viewed as a child welfare matter, the basic assumption that guides intervention is that social and clinical interventions are more effective in protecting children and preventing the reoccurrence of abuse and neglect (White, 2001). Therefore this gave rise to family preservation and reunification programs which occurred in the wake of the rediscovery of child abuse in the 1960s.
Another reason for studying family preservation and unification programs is to examine the policy and practice in these programs. Gelles (1997) says that such programs determine the services provided in a client’s home, the length of home visit which is variable and not confined to 50 minute clinical hour. The study helps us to establish the caseloads which typically should be 2-3 families per worker. Gelles (1997) says that through the program we establish that, soft services such as therapy and education, and hard services such as food stamps, housing, a homemaker and supplemental social security are provided. Family preservation programs are claimed to have reduced the placement of children, reduced the cost of out of home placement and at the same time ensured the safety of children (White, 2001).
Family Preservation and Unification Programs
Family preservation and reunification program began in Tacoma, Washington in 1974. The core goal of the program is to keep children safely in the home or to facilitate a safe and lasting reunification. White (2001) indicated that “these services program were designed for families that have serious crisis threatening the stability of the family and the safety of the family members” (p. 370). The main feature of these programs is that they are normally short-term, crisis intervention.
These family perseveration programs offer services that have an ecological perspective, stressing collaboration and coordination with community supports and services (Henggeler & Santos, 1997). Henggeler & Santos (1997) continues to say that programs are geared towards family preservation and reunification unless the child’s safety is jeopardized. The service delivery of previous programs is comprehensive and flexible to meet the needs of the families. Henggeler & Santos (1997) established that previous programs were committed to empowering families, fostering hope and assisting families in setting and achieving goals and priorities.
The most successful family preservation and reunification programs included a number of core elements. Reamer & Siegel (2008) says that these elements of family preservation are critical because they can provide promising findings. Family preservation services appear to be moderately effective in preventing placement outside the home of children who are in early adolescence and who are referred for truant, oppositional or delinquent behavior. Reamer & Siegel (2008) also noted that arrests and incarcerations are reduced by risk focused multi-systemic family intervention models.
Study results indicate that family preservation and unification programs may be effective in preventing placement into foster care, group homes and residential treatment of youths referred for child behavior problems by the public child welfare system (Reamer & Siegel, 2008).
According to a book published by Diane publishing (n.d) studies have shown that on average 80% of the families receiving family preservation services have remained together one year after the intervention ended. The estimated annual cost of care in institutional settings ranges from $10,000 to $50,000 per child nationwide while family preservation and reunification programs range from $2,500 to $5,000 per family and even less per child (Center for the study of Social Policy [CSSP] 1991). In New York City the average cost of family preservation services was $5,000 per child, compared with $13,500 per year in foster care (CSSP, 1991). Through family preservation and reunification programs, in Denver, Colorado, 93% of families remained together six months after receiving family preservation services and 83 % were still together one year post services (Denver Family Preservation and Reunification Program, 1991).
Gaps in the Existing Literature
Early studies of family preservation programs tended to show positive results, specifically in rates of out-of-home placement. Henggeler & Santos (1997) says that “later studies with more intensive designs however have shown more mixed results, often with no statistical differences in the proportion of children placed from family preservation and unification programs” (p. 29). Children receiving family preservation services may have been placed at a slower rate.
Eventually, Barnett, Miller-Perrin & Perrin (2005) indicated that “proponents of family preservation and unification believe that such children should remain in their homes while their families receive intensive services aimed at keeping the children safe” (p. 184). In this context there is considerable debate in the research literature, however regarding the value of family preservation and unification programs and their effectiveness. Some scholars argue that the doctrine of family preservation and reunification should be abandoned and replaced by programs that are based on child protection and intervention aimed at children needs (Barnett, Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2005).
Research evidence of the effectiveness of some types of programs is growing but significant gaps exist (Reamer & Siegel, 2008). Assessing the effectiveness of family preservation and unification programs is challenging because different programs that use the same name and follow the same general model can be quite different from one another (Reamer & Siegel, 2008). The gaps in literature continue to exist because the main aim of family preservation services is to keep children in their parents’ home or to reunify families whose children are in out-of-home placements but there are also other services that also exist within such setting such as foster care, group homes, residential treatment and juvenile correctional facilities. Reamer & Siegel (2008) indicated that in-home family preservation services in which workers have small caseloads and intervention lasts no more than twenty weeks.
The full review undertaken for the study should touch on relevant issues that have been addressed in family preservation and unification programs (Kufeldt & McKenzie, 2003). It is important to note that whether or not children are able to return home, contact with family is important for successful reunification. Kufeldt & McKenzie (2003) mentioned that children who experience frequent visits are more likely to be reunited with their natural family.
The hypothesis surrounding the family preservation and reunification program evaluation is young children and families that will be reunited through First Steps. The hypothesis surrounding the evaluation of First Steps indicated that the longer a child remained in out-of-homecare, the less likely the child was to experience successful family reunification. The program evaluation will assess the effectiveness of First Steps in its role of protecting young children and their families from abuse and neglect, to strengthen individual and family functioning and preserve the integrity and dignity of the family while addressing the developmental needs of the individual members.
In relation to the research literature review, majority of the family preservation and reunification programs, the evaluation of First Steps will either employ control group or use comparison group with an appropriate match for the group under the program. White (2001) says that with regard to First Steps family preservation and reunification programs, the literature review indicates that children were more likely to be placed in stable and significant settings. Evaluation of First Steps shows that the underlying hypothesis for family preservation and reunification services shows that many more children could remain with their families if services were provided earlier and more intensively (Whittaker, 1990).
To establish whether First Steps program services are effective there are a number of methodological problems in comparing evaluation of family preservation and reunification programs. Firstly, the hypothesis should outline if there is lack of clear, consistent intake and eligibility standards (Whittaker, 1990). Through the use of First Steps as a basis for evaluation there could also be poor specification of the services delivered or the integrity of the services delivered over time. From the evaluation of First Steps family preservation and reunification services will have to be congruent with a number of upcoming trends such as the need for permanent homes for children, foster care reform and cost containment as indicated in the literature review (Whittaker, 1990). Also from the evaluation of First Steps it is critical that standardized measures of family and child functioning in a variety of settings, and to better understand which families can benefit from family preservation and reunification programs.
From First Steps evaluation it can be stated that effective family preservation and reunification programs can be built and funded for with little net increase in what would otherwise be state’s long run expenditures for child welfare and family programs (Whittaker, 1990). The substantive benefits that have expanded First Steps family preservation and reunification program can bring to such children and parents benefits that can be purchased with a limited increase in tax spending in the short term and promote tax savings in the long run. From the evaluation, it is critical to note that an enlarged capacity of First Steps family preservation and reunification program may prove capable not only of cutting costs attached to specific placements it takes care of, but also of making more affordable the price of placement programs it cannot prevent (Whittaker, 1990). These research findings and evaluations will then be communicated to the board members of First Steps to help them make decisions about whether or not to continue, expand, or cancel specific services.