An Australian’s View of IFPS

Koala by marragem

Photo by marragem. Used under the Creative Commons license.

In 2012, the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust provided me with the most adventurous, challenging, and rewarding experience of my life when approving my project into studying the effective use of intensive family support services to address child and abuse and neglect.

During my 10 weeks of travel across the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States of America, and Canada, I heard from some of the world’s foremost experts on child protection who have shared their valuable time, experiences, and knowledge with me.

Some Lessons I Learned About Intensive Family Preservation Services

  • A family preservation philosophy is essential to achieve positive transformational change.
  • Research-based, effective family preservation services must be established in an intensive targeted system.
  • Child protection must be conceptualized as a system that protects children, supports families, and strengthens communities, with the sharing, not shifting, of responsibilities.
  • A political and public will must be established in order to challenge the hearts and minds of the community to assert that our most vulnerable children and families are worthy of respect, care, and support—whatever it takes.

Child abuse and neglect does not occur in isolation, rather in contexts. It cannot be easily disentangled from individual, family, and community issues, such as, poverty, mental health, drug and alcohol dependency, domestic violence, homelessness, and social isolation. Governments across the world are actively seeking options to support families so that more children and young people could remain safely at home. Just as there is not “one type” of family, nor is there a “one type of service” that can address all of the families’ needs. Family preservation services have a significant role to fulfill in a system designed to protect children and support families. Throughout my travels, I have developed an understanding that family preservation is also a philosophy, with potential to provide community-based interventions for families with a much broader range of issues and problems.

The following is what I learned from one program I visited in the United States.

Institute for Family Development—Developers of the HOMEBUILDERS® Program

Homebuilders® is an intensive in-home family treatment program designed to keep children and families safe and prevent unnecessary out of home placement of children, and to safely reunite children and families. The team (I met with Charlotte Booth, Christi Lyson, and John Hutchens) spoke of how the Homebuilders® program has evolved over time but the emphasis of the intervention has always been on the safety of the child.

In order to achieve that the program has a clearly articulated set of values and beliefs, which guides program design and staff behaviour. Along with the provision of concrete supports, clinicians utilize a range of cognitive and behavioural therapy interventions, such as motivational enhancements therapy.

The promotion of Homebuilders® to the child protection sector as an effective intervention program has not come without its challenges. The implementation of the model takes time and resources and the support of the government and non-government sectors is crucial.

A meta-analysis of research conducted by the Washington State Institute For Public Policy into Intensive Family Preservation Programs: Program Fidelity Influences Effectiveness (February, 2006) concluded that:

Intensive Family Preservation Services that are implemented with fidelity to the Homebuilders® model significantly reduce out-of-home placements and subsequent abuse and neglect. We estimate that such programs produce $2.54 of benefits for each dollar of cost. However non- Homebuilders® programs (even those claiming to be based on the Homebuilders®) produce no significant effect on either outcome.

These results support the view that fidelity to program design can determine whether or not an individual program is effective in achieving its goals.

Grounded in comprehensive research, the Homebuilders® model is an effective family preservation model that would greatly benefit Queensland’s (Australia) child protection system.

The transportation of effective and sustainable alternative strategies as seen throughout the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the United Kingdom can benefit Australia through redirecting future funding, policy, and programs areas that better target services to vulnerable children and families.

Resources must be shifted to fund research-based, effective family preservation services to address child maltreatment.

The full report can be accessed at:
http://www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3689/christopher+boyle

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Posted by Chris Boyle, 2012 Churchill Fellow, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
chrisjboyle74@gmail.com