Troubled families facing crises with their children, like delinquency and drug abuse, seldom know how to break the cycle of failure. But a new study shows that most families can stay together and be taught to function cohesively.

The usual treatment for such families is to remove the children from the home, according to researchers at the University of Utah Social Research Institute and at the Behavioral Science Institute in Federal Way, Wash.A study of the new Family Preservation Services, where the treatment takes place in the home, shows it can be an effective alternative to foster placement. FPS therapists visit the home and remain on-call constantly. After two months, families are both intact and in control.

The three-year study, funded by a grant from the U.S. Office of Human Development, is the largest to research any home-based service. It monitored 453 families who agreed to participate as an alternative to having their children removed from the home. Families were contacted 12 months after their evaluation period ended to see if any child placement or runaway behavior had occurred.

"Home-based treatment is not a panacea," said Dr. Peter J. Pecora, a U. professor of social work. "We will always have children who need quality foster care, residential treatment and adoption services."

FPS only accepts families on the verge of having children removed. Therapists work a small case load - two to six families, rather than the usual 20 to 40 - and visit the home immediately. They are then on call to provide intensive 24-hour a day service for four to eight weeks. They evaluate the problems and recommend or coordinate needed services.

A worker might provide transportation, locate financial support, coordinate community services or even help clean the house. Once a family's day-to-day needs are stabilized, parent skills such as anger management and conflict resolution are taught and rehearsed in the home with the worker.