Too Little, Too Late: Designing Family Support to Succeed


Removal of children from their families is the dominant response of legislatures and social service agencies when faced with the problem of maltreatment. However, the needs of many children are best served when they are permitted to remain with their families. Implementing safe family preservation requires the provision of services building upon families’ strengths to enable families to meet the needs of their children. A pro-family strengths/needs-based system of care cuts across the areas of child welfare, education, health, housing, mental health, substance abuse, and criminal justice. When properly formulated, it simultaneously builds on family strengths, preserves ties between children and families, and attends to needs that, if unmet, put children at risk.

This strengths/needs approach to services makes possible a genuine partnership between social workers, families, and children. Effective family support requires that services are designed with families. Moreover, such services must be sufficiently intensive to address the child’s safety and attachment needs, and of a sufficient duration to have a lasting impact.Indeed, unless the family and the older children agree with service providers about their needs, little will change in their lives.

Unfortunately, family preservation has come to mean small, short-term programs emanating out of business-as-usual human services departments. Many families do not get services to assist them in meeting their children’s needs; the family support necessary to prevent removal from home or to achieve reunification is simply not in place. In addition, many children do not receive the proper care necessary to recover from maltreatment, which jeopardizes reunification or the success of other permanent placements. Too little service provided too late should not be misconstrued as an indictment of the goal of keeping children with their families.

Families can meet their children’s needs if agencies provide the necessary components of family preservation: (1) services must be crafted with the family; (2) standards for minimally adequate homes must guide services; (3) services must be tailored to meet individual needs, particularly those in substance-abusing families;4 and (4) reunification services must ad-dress the risks causing removal and the child’s and parent’s feelings about separation. This Article describes how services must be designed for family support to succeed.

Suggested Reading

Matthew I. Fraidin∞  This is a transcript of a speech given by Professor Fraidin at the N.Y.U. Family Defense Clinic’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Symposium, held on April 7, 2016. This is the life of a family defense lawyer: A 17-year-old