The Evidence Portal

Family Connections

About the program

Family Connections is a multifaceted, community-based program.  It works with families in their homes and in the context of their neighbourhoods to help them meet the basic needs of their children and reduce the risk of child neglect.

Nine practice principles guide Family Connections:

  • community outreach
  • individualised family assessment
  • tailored interventions
  • helping alliance
  • empowerment approaches
  • strengths perspective
  • cultural competence
  • developmental appropriateness
  • outcome-driven service plans

Who does it work for?

Family Connections was designed for families in a neighbourhood with extreme poverty, unemployment and general economic distress. The program targeted families with at least one child between the ages of 5 and 11.

Families were eligible for the program if:

  • They demonstrated or were at risk of at least one of 19 neglect subtypes  (e.g., unsafe housing conditions, inadequate supervision, inadequate/delayed health care)
  • They demonstrated at least two additional risk factors for neglect related to the child (e.g. behaviour problem, physical, developmental, or learning disability or more than three children) or the caregiver/family (e.g., unemployment/overemployment, mental health problem, drug or alcohol problem, domestic violence, homelessness)
  • There was no current involvement with child protection services

Family Connections has only been evaluated in the USA (DePanfilis & Dubowitz, 2005).

A randomised control trial was conducted with 125 caregivers and 473 children. On average, caregivers were 37 years old and children were 8 years old. The majority of parents (86%) and children (85%) were African American.  Families were excluded from the program if they were involved with child protection services at the time of referral, although there could have been prior involvement with the agency.

The program has not been evaluated in Australia or with Aboriginal Australians.

What outcomes does it contribute to?

Positive outcomes:

  • Parent’s social support: caregivers who received the Family Connections reported higher levels of social support, compared to caregivers who did not participate in the program.

No effect:

  • Child abuse reports (substantiated/unsubstantiated): The program did not have an effect on the number of child abuse reports for families received the program.
  • Family functioning: The program did not have an effect on family functioning.
  • Parenting attitude: the program did not have an effect on parent’s sense of competence.
  • Parenting stress: the program did not have an effect on parenting stress.
  • Parent’s mental health: the program did not have an effect on caregiver depressive symptoms or everyday stress.

Negative outcomes:

  • No negative outcomes were found.

How effective is it?

Overall, the program had a mixed effect on client outcomes.

How strong is the evidence?

Mixed research evidence (with no adverse effects):

  • At least one high-quality randomised controlled trial (RCT) or quasi-experimental design (QED) study reports statistically significant positive effects for at least one outcome, AND
  • An equal number or more RCT or QED studies of similar size and quality show no observed effects than show statistically significant positive effects, AND
  • No RCT or QED studies show statistically significant adverse effects.

How is it implemented?

Family Connections is a home visitation program.

Direct services are provided to families for a minimum of 1-hour per week. Families participate in the program for 9 months.

The core components of Family Connections include:

  • Emergency assistance: An automated resource directory and extensive network of in-kind and monetary resources were used to help families take advantage of existing community resources and, when not available, to use an emergency fund developed by Family Connections
  • Home-based family intervention: All families received home-based intervention tailored to the specific needs of each family. Families were assessed to identify emergency needs and to tailor support. Outcome-driven service plans were developed based on specific risk factors identified concerning the child, parent, family, or environment. Individual and family counselling was provided as needed.
  • Service coordination: Service facilitation and coordination was a critical component of the model. When the family assessment suggested the need for additional services (e.g., substance abuse, serious mental health issues), interns assumed brokering and advocacy roles to help family members access services and achieve established goals and outcomes. Family Connections interns assumed the role of team leader, bringing service providers together with the family as needed.
  • Multifamily supportive recreational activities: At least four times during each year, families were invited to come together for opportunities to celebrate and experience local cultural and recreational activities. Examples included trips to local museums or the ballpark, a boat ride, a nurturing day for parents and other caregivers, and holiday and cultural celebrations. These activities were supported by separate grants or donations provided to the program by individuals and organisations in the community. To continue the connections between each other, families also received a family newsletter with parenting tips and notices about free or low-cost family events and activities.

How much does it cost?

Not reported.

What else should I consider?

Most services were provided by graduate social work interns supervised by a faculty member. Interns received at least weekly individual supervision and weekly clinical seminars. Supervisory consultation was also available on daily basis if needed. Especially at the beginning of the academic year, supervisors made home visits with interns and modeled intervention methods.

Where does the evidence come from?

1 RCT conducted in the USA with a sample of 125 people (DePanfilis & Dubowitz, 2005).

Further resources

DePanfilis , D, & Dubowitz, H, (2005), ‘Family Connections: A Program for Preventing Child Neglect’, Child Maltreatment, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 108-123.

Last updated:

16 Feb 2023

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