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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 4
Summer 1996

Seizing the Opportunity for Change: Family Preservation Services (FPS)

In the past thirty years, public officials have become increasingly concerned with the numbers of children placed in foster care. Many attribute this to a lack of (or inadequate) preventive services prior to placement.

In the last decade, many states have moved to remedy this situation by providing family preservation services (FPS)--intensive services targeted to families with children at "imminent risk" of out-of-home placement.

When is FPS Called for?

Imagine this scenario: a child has been seen for several reports of mild abuse. CPS has been involved, made referrals, but has not had grounds to keep the case open.

One referral, a therapist at the local mental health center, notices this family is becoming more stressed and is beginning to isolate itself from helping professionals. She worries violence could result, perhaps causing the child to be placed in foster care. She calls in a report.

When the therapist's report comes in, CPS contacts family preservation services in an effort to keep this child out of foster care placement.

Crisis and Change

Based in crisis theory, family perservation programs act on the belief that a crisis presents a unique opportunity to change family patterns of interaction and bring a family to a higher level of functioning.

Models for these services look different from place to place. Some are provided by public employees, while others use private agencies to deliver services. Durations of this intensive intervention range from about six to twelve weeks.

There are common themes among these models. Caseloads are small, and workers see families as soon as possible after a referral is made. Intervention is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and is generally home-based. Services include assistance with housing, transportation, and food. Counseling and skills training, generally around parenting issues, are key features of most programs.

Family Preservation Services (FPS) in North Carolina

In North Carolina, family preservation services last four to six weeks, caseloads are no higher than four families per worker, and there is round-the-clock assistance available.

In addition to DSS, referrals are made by judges, mental health workers, and substance abuse professionals. Services include intensive family and individual counseling, client advocacy, development of parenting skills, case management, and concrete assistance.

If family preservation services are available in your county, consider discussing with your supervisor and colleagues how you can best work with this agency.


Blythe, B. J., Salley, M. P., & Jayarantne, S. (1994). A review of intensive family preservation services research. Social Work Research, 18(4), 213-224.

Family preservation services annual report. (1995).

1996 Jordan Institute for Families