Intensive Family Preservation Services


Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) are services designed to prevent a child’s placement out of the home, most commonly into the foster care system. Families are typically identified by child protective services systems because of suspected or confirmed child abuse and/or neglect, and referred to IFPS in an effort to reduce risk of future maltreatment to such a degree that a child will be able to remain at home safely. When successful, IFPS prevents the need to protectively remove a child from home and place him or her into the foster care system to avert further maltreatment.

Although a variety of family supportive services have been around for many years, IFPS emerged as a distinct strategy most noticeably in the 1970s and 1980s with a growing recognition of the importance of primary attachments for children’s well-being; the need to strive for more stable permanent settings for developing children; and the growing recognition that foster care placement was often expensive, unstable, and even in some instances unsafe. Several promising service models that were tested in Alameda, California, and in Oregon in the late 1970s suggested that if families received intensive supportive services, the need to place a child out of the home to avert further maltreatment could be averted. The passage of the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 96-272) in 1980 required states to document “reasonable efforts” to maintain children in their own homes prior to their placement into foster care, which spurred the national expansion of IFPS. Since that time, a growing number of service models and accompanying evidence have shed light on IFPS and the capacity of the services to avert the placement of children in foster care.

Most commonly, IFPS are provided directly in the child’s home by a trained IFPS social worker. IFPS is intensive in that services provided in the home are often provided on a short-term but frequent basis (several times per week is common), with workers handling only a few cases at a time and available around the clock for crisis needs. Services typically consist of crisis intervention support, guidance around parenting techniques, activities to link families up with needed community resources and supports, and sometimes modest material assistance to purchase essential goods for the family. One of the strengths of IFPS is that such programs have been carefully studied, providing evidence guiding their development. At present, a number of studies examining the overall effectiveness of IFPS in reducing out-of-home placement rates have failed to find program effects, while others have reported significant preventive trends and improvement in family functioning. While the evidence base is increasingly identifying which families are most likely to most benefit from IFPS, further research is necessary to reliably guide the advancement of IFPS so that the services can fulfill their promise to prevent children’s being placed away from home as a protective option.

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