In an effort to reduce both the growing population of children in foster care and the rising costs of such out-of-home placement, the State of California developed a means of providing counties with fiscal incentives to reduce placements and their costs. Initially implemented on a pilot basis under the mandate of AB 948, which realigned the state and county shares of non-federal costs of child welfare and other social services and related legislation, the program was extended to make all counties in the state eligible to develop and manage a family preservation program using the state and county matching funds for Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC) expenditures. Under the legislation, counties could obtain an advance of up to 25 percent of their projected state share of the AFDC-FC match for providing family preservation services. If actual AFDC-FC expenditures were less than projected, the county and state shared the resulting savings. Given these criteria and the growing realization that intensive services to keep children with their families could be less costly both financially and socially than placement, numerous counties developed intensive family preservation programs. The legislation mandated that the program be evaluated to determine if it was an effective, efficient, and economical way to enable troubled families to remain intact safely, and required that participating families be followed for two years after completing program services.
WRMA was awarded the contract to conduct this legislatively mandated evaluation of the family preservation programs developed by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and the child welfare agencies in nine additional counties across the state. The evaluation included a description of each county's program and an analysis of client outcomes two years after completing services, and a review of the fiscal impact on the participating counties. Because the Los Angeles County program was only partially implemented during the period of the evaluation, the outcome and fiscal analysis components of the evaluation focused only on the other 9 county programs. The Los Angeles County program was the subject of a separate detailed process evaluation.
The study objectives included 1) reviewing each county's program goals and objectives; 2) conducting a review of the history of family preservation services and a meta-analysis of current and past family preservation program evaluations; 3) conducting an intensive data collection effort to assess the characteristics and outcomes of participating families, two years after completing FPP services; 4) conducting site visits to each county program, and each of the first nine Family Preservation Networks in Los Angeles County to interview program staff and involved county officials and other stakeholders; and 5) conducting a final analysis of case data collected and a full cost analysis of county programs. The evaluation period was from February 1, 1992, through October 31, 1997.
The evaluation has helped the state and other funding agencies and service providers sharpen the focus of family preservation program services and improve the assessment and targeting of program clients by determining which services are more effective. The evaluation also found that the initiative, as it evolved over time, was an economical approach to funding services to troubled families and their children. Factors that were key in the implementation and provision of program services were also identified through this evaluation.