What is Family Preservation and Why Does It Matter?
This paper presents the competing ideas, values, and perceptions that have led to different understandings of family preservation services (FPS). It is a challenge to gauge FPS's fit within the child welfare system among the basic functions of child welfare-protective services, foster care, and adoption. While many commentators speak of the child welfare "continuum," this vision has not been fully realized in most communities. The vision and breadth of FPS varies greatly among jurisdictions, ranging from being marginal to being integral in a social service network spanning varied target populations, including juvenile justice and mental health clients. Many of the passionate arguments about family preservation are about what to do when the twin poles of science (research) and morality (belief) are not in alignment. However, some of the solutions and theories advanced by FPS created tensions of their own as they suggested different manifestations of FPS. Three child development theories enrich the theoretical and conceptual bases of FPS-the transactional approach to child development, attachment theory, and resiliency theory. Referral to child protection is sometimes the only service available for families beginning to face problems, if not a last resort. The field should look beyond narrow definitions of family preservation services to the philosophical issues at stake and focus on the policy changes and technical advances that must be made in order to develop a broad range of family- and community-centered services. Such an examination can help guide the next generation of reforms that should emphasize supporting families and improving community development.