This is the one of the four research papers for today’s debate on: “Parental Substance Misuse: Messages from Research”
Title of the paper: Evaluation of an intensive family preservation service for families affected by parental substance misuse
Parental misuse of drugs or alcohol is recognised to be an issue for a high proportion of families to known social services, and for many children who enter care. However, there is limited research on what is effective in working with such families. This article reports on an evaluation of an Intensive Family Preservation Service (named ‘Option 2’) aimed at families in which parents misuse substances and children are considered at risk of entering care. The study used mixed methods. A quasi-experimental element compared solely data relating to care entry (e.g. how long children spent in care and its cost) for Option 2 children (n = 279) and a comparison group of referrals not provided with the service (n = 89) on average 3.5 years after referral. It found that about 40 per cent of children in both groups entered care, however Option 2 children took longer to enter, spent less time in care and were more likely to be at home at follow-up. As a result, Option 2 produced significant cost savings. A small-scale qualitative element of the study involved interviews with 11 parents and seven children in eight families. The findings suggested that Option 2 was a highly professional and appreciated service. For some families it achieved permanent change. For others, particularly those with complex and long-standing problems, significant positive changes were not sustained. The implications for services designed to prevent public care, particularly where there are substance misuse issues, are discussed and recommendations for policy and evaluation made.