Rural preservationists take note: The National Family Preservation Network’s nine-year odyssey from the Hunter College School of Social Work to the Maryland suburbs of D.C. has ended in Buhl, Idaho (pop. 3,516). The NFPN was launched in 1992 “to serve as the primary national voice” for Intensive Family Prevention Services, with high hopes and $390,000 in grants from New York’s Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. Its struggle to proselytize for intensive programs for parents (almost always mothers) about to lose their children to foster care is itself a study in determined preservation. Pioneered since 1974 by the Tacoma, Washington-based Behavioral Sciences Institute/ HOMEBUILDERS, its intensive crisis-intervention approach strives to keep families safe and intact and the children out of foster care. In addition, said early political supporters, it would save taxpayers money in the bargain.
The HOMEBUILDERS’ philosophy gained wide popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s as family preservation programs spread through the nation. A national backlash, punctuated by stories of babies killed by their parents, left its national supporters with plenty of resolve but little money. A move to Maryland in 1998, where attorney Anne LoPiano took over, ended (along with the last of the support from Clark) with an empty treasury. The group, says current Executive Director Priscilla Martens, “almost went under.”
In January 2000, Martens – a former lobbyist, social worker and HOMEBUILDER supporter in Washington state who had moved back to Buhl – inherited a board of 17, currently chaired by Randy Jenkins, a Lithia Springs, Ga.-based consultant. NFPN now has “about 100 members”(some agencies, some individuals) paying professional dues ranging from $50 to $500. Thanks to the Internet, Martens (firstname.lastname@example.org), and grants from the Annie E. Casey ($40,000) and Packard ($140,000) foundations, NFPN has been able to survive on a frugal $150,000 annual budget. Casey has funded NFPN to develop a curriculum and deliver training to child welfare workers on fatherhood issues. Packard’s grant is for training child welfare workers in using an assessment tool to “measure the impact of key factors in successful reunifications.” Field-testing is now underway in Indianapolis, Washington state and Missouri.
The pro- and anti- forces in the family preservation debates continue their now decade-long battle via competing research findings. Currently, the NFPN is touting findings by its consultant, Ray Kirk, at the University of North Carolina. He conducted a retrospective study of more than 1,200 children in North Carolina who had received intensive family preservation services (IFPS) over a five-year period and compared their outcomes with over 110,000 who had not. Concluded Kirk, “IFPS outperformed traditional child welfare services” in a number of key outcomes such as reducing or delaying placement in foster care.
But hold on, say critics. A new evaluation study by Westat, Inc., the Chapin Hall Center for Children and James Bell Associates entitled, “Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Interim Report,” didn’t make it onto NFPN’s website. (Try www.aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/fampres94/index.htm.) The report’s “bottom line,” says NFPN arch nemesis professor Richard Gelles at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, was that family preservation program models including HOMEBUILDERS, “didn’t reduce placements, didn’t reduce costs, didn’t improve family functioning, and didn’t improve child functioning.” President Bush’s new budget boosts funding for the 1997 Safe and Stable Families Act from $305 million to $505 million, ensuring that all stakeholders from Bangor to Buhl will continue their family feuds.
Contact: Family Preservation Network (888) 498-9047 or www.nfpn.org.