Program Evaluation and Research


Section 5 of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report: Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan, 2000

"During the past two decades, the focus on abused children and their families has shifted within the child welfare system. Rather than removing abused children from their homes as the first course of action, efforts are made to preserve families by addressing the problems of abuse and changing behavior within the family. This new approach is based on the following assumptions:

  • Children's safety and security is the first priority.
  • If their safety can be ensured, children belong with their families.
  • Families are the best environment for socialization.
  • Being placed in a series of temporary foster homes can seriously impair a child's emotional development.
  • Removing a child from an abusive home does not automatically ensure the child's safety.
The shift in emphasis toward family preservation and changing family behavior grew out of research showing that family bonding is essential for healthy cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development, and that families that receive assistance can most often overcome problems. A 1984 study by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) found that for every 1,000 children placed in out-of-home care, 30 experienced additional abuse. By contrast, among 2,505 children and their families who participated in the Families First family-strengthening program, only one child reported an incident of abuse during the first 12 months of the program.

HOMEBUILDERS of Tacoma, WA, one of the first local family preservation programs, has operated with impressive results since its establishment in 1974. In the first 12 months after entering the program, 88 percent of the children identified by case workers as candidates for out-of-home placement remain in their homes, and both child and family functioning show significant improvement on standardized measures. A similar program begun in 1987 in the Bronx, NY, to test the HOMEBUILDERS treatment model in an urban setting also achieved a high level of success.

Family Ties of New York, another program modeled after the HOMEBUILDERS approach, is underwritten by New York City with matching State funds. From 1991 to 1992, 80 percent of juveniles who participated in Family Ties remained out of the juvenile justice system during the 6 months after starting with the program. During a period of a year or more, the success rate for program participants was 82 percent. Recidivism rates were significantly lower for the program group than for a comparison group."

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