Review of Intensive Family Preservation Services

Intensive social work designed to help families in crisis is effective in preventing children from entering care, research has found.

In association with its research partner the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) at Cardiff University, What Works for Children’s Social Care has launched its latest report examining the evidence-base and effectiveness of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). The research will inform social worker policy and practice in England.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 37 papers shows that IFPS are effective at preventing out-of-home placement of children. The number of children looked after in the care system is at its highest levels since 1985 and Department for Education data for 2017-2018 show that 32,050 started to be looked after in 2017-2018. If implemented correctly, academics conclude IFPS could help reduce the rate of children entering care - a key priority for English local authorities.

IFPS vary in effectiveness, it was found, suggesting that how they are implemented is important. It is likely that key elements of the model, such as working with children who are at imminent risk of entering care and offering support with 24 hours of a referral, are important in ensuring that the service is effective.

Professor Donald Forrester, Director of CASCADE, said: “It is exciting to see evidence for the difference that intensive social work with families can make brought together in this way. Most of this research is from the USA, so the next stage is to support local authorities to implement or improve IFPS services in the UK. We are carrying out research to learn about and share findings in relation to effective practice here, and hope to evaluate IFPS services in England in the near future.”

Michael Sanders, Executive Director of What Works for Children’s Social Care, said: “Reviews like these, alongside primary research studies, are an important part of building up and translating the evidence base to support social workers’ practice. Safely reducing the numbers of children entering care is a key priority for local authorities in England, so it is significant to have identified an intervention that works, according to international evidence.”

The full report is available on the What Works for Children’s Social Care website, along with a summary report.


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