Intensive Family Preservation Services provides intensive, in-home crisis intervention, counseling, and life-skills education for families who have children at imminent risk of placement in state-funded care. The goals of IFPS are to prevent unnecessary out-of-home placement of children through intensive, on-site intervention, and to teach families new problem-solving skills to prevent future crises.
IFPS are characterized by small caseloads, short duration of services, 24-hour availability of staff, and the provision of services primarily in the family’s home or in another environment familiar to the family.
- Intervention at the crisis point
Professional therapists reach families when the families are in crisis. Client families are seen within 24 hours of referral.
- Treatment in the natural setting
Services take place in the client’s home or the community where the problems occur and need to be resolved.
- Accessibility and responsiveness
Therapists are on call to their clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Families are given as much time as they need, when they need it. This accessibility also allows close monitoring of potentially dangerous situations.
Services are provided when and where the clients wish. Therapists provide a wide range of services, from helping clients meet the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, to the most sophisticated therapeutic techniques.
- Small caseloads
Therapists carry only 2 to 3 cases at a time. This enables them to be accessible and provide intensive services. Low caseloads also allow therapists the time to work on specific psycho-educational interventions, as well as the basic hard service needs of the family. The services are concentrated to take advantage of times when families are experiencing the most pain, and have the most motivation to change.
Services are time-limited and concentrated in a period targeted at 4-6 weeks. The service is designed to resolve the immediate crisis, and teach the skills necessary for the family to remain together. Each family receives an average of 40 to 50 hours of direct service.
- Research-based interventions
Therapists utilize a range of research-based interventions, including crisis intervention, motivational interviewing, parent education, skill building, and cognitive/behavioral therapy.
What Intensive Family Preservation Services Are—IFPS is a model of short-term (four to six weeks), home-based services designed to provide individualized and immediate assistance to families when a child is about to be taken from the home and placed in foster care or a juvenile justice or psychiatric facility. In social service terminology, the child is at “imminent risk” of removal. Building on the crisis created by this imminent placement, IFPS encourages rapid change in family interactions. The goal is to preserve the family, while ensuring the safety of children and helping the family learn new skills to stay together successfully.
What Intensive Family Preservation Services Are Not—The term “family preservation” is sometimes erroneously interpreted to mean keeping families together at all costs or leaving abused and neglected children at home in unsafe conditions with no help. Such a characterization overlooks the core of intensive family preservation – carefully crafted in-home services provided by trained staff, designed to remove the risk of harm to the child instead of removing the child. If it is not possible to keep the family together and the children safe at the same time, IFPS is not the appropriate service for that family.
Family preservation has also been interpreted—again erroneously— to mean placing the rights of parents above the safety and rights of their children. Most parents want to protect, nurture and support their children, and children benefit when help is provided so parents can care for them responsibly. IFPS programs, in fact, protect children’s rights by working with their parents.
Targeting services to families in crisis and on the verge of having a child removed and for whom no other community or preventative service is available to prevent placement—Intensive family preservation services supplement, rather than compete with, existing programs. During an intervention, for example, a caseworker might help a mother enroll in a drug treatment program or obtain other specialized services that are needed to prevent a child’s removal from the home. State social service officials know that foster care is a scarce resource. Wider use of intensive family preservation means foster care homes will be available for those children who really need to be placed.
Recognition that the existence of a crisis and the risk of harm to children require an immediate response—There is no waiting list for intensive family preservation services. Families are seen as soon as possible after a referral has been made, generally within 24 hours. This quick response helps to assure the safety of the children or any other family member believed to be at risk and begins working with the family while the crisis is still happening. It builds upon the belief that a crisis can be a turning point, mobilizing individuals to transform old, destructive patterns into new, more positive ways of behaving.
A thorough intake and assessment process focused on safety and the elimination of danger to all involved—Meeting in the home, listening to family members in their everyday life, and extensive training for caseworkers all contribute to an accurate safety assessment that allows the caseworker to help the family reduce the risk of harm.
Availability of the family worker 24 hours a day, seven days a week—Family crises don’t conveniently take place between 9 and 5. Thus, IFPS workers are on call every day, around the clock, to enable them to respond when both the family’s need and opportunity to learn are the greatest. This flexibility also enhances the protective capacity of the services.
Working with families in their homes—Intensive family preservation services are home-based, and meetings take place on a frequent, often daily, basis. Workers in the home are able to learn more about family dynamics than they would likely learn in the confines of a government office building. Their assistance is thus more relevant to the family’s actual situation.
Small caseloads—Each IFPS caseworker generally works with only two families at a time and is thus able to give concentrated attention to each case. Thus, workers are able to give families the support they need; as a result, they have a sense of satisfaction that is often absent among more traditional child welfare caseworkers.
Short-term, intensive services—Intensive family preservation workers limit their involvement with a family to four to six weeks. Since they spend up to 20 hours a week with family members, however, they provide as many total hours of service as a more traditional approach would provide over the course of a year or more. This intensity not only helps assure safety, it also concentrates a family’s learning into a brief period of high energy when both the family and the worker can give their best efforts.