The Family First Prevention Act has become law. This is the most profound change to child welfare finance since 1980. In many ways, it is good news. In other ways, states (including Florida) have decisions to make.
The Family First Prevention Act intends to do some important things for children and families. One main provision will provide more support for parents. Support for mental health, substance abuse and in-home parenting programs. Parents who need certain supports to prevent their child from being removed, will now have that support. Before this bill became law, prevention was not an option under the original funding provisions. Before it became law, the original funding provision would kick in after a child was placed in foster care (as long as their biological parents met income thresholds).
For the past several years, some states opted for flexible funds (known as, Title IV-E waivers) which gave states (including Florida) the opportunity to implement programs to help families with a myriad of issues. The waiver truly created an umbrella of prevention services, and it appeared that the workforce became more empowered because there were finally options for families. Unfortunately, those waivers are ending. Flexible spending for child welfare will end under the waiver program in 2019. There is little chance that the waivers will be extended. This reality was a tough one for our state. Being privatized, our system works differently than any other system in America. The waivers enhanced our service array.
Without the waiver, the Family First Prevention Act could be beneficial for our state. Though, there are still many decisions that need to be made regarding congregate (group) care. Essentially, the Family First Act will discourage the use of group care for children. Group care is defined as: any care facility that houses six or more children is considered a group home. I don’t think you would find many people who prefer it or believe it’s the best option for children; though, it is important to be realistic about the high number of kids in care and the limited amount of foster homes.
The new law also requires that the prevention services that are covered under the reform bill reach a certain standard of effectiveness as outlined by the California Clearing House. The standards of care that we provide our families should be high so there’s no argument from me. Though, I know that this requirement could be overwhelming to many agencies who do not have funding for evaluation. Our Institute is already preparing for evaluation partnerships. We want to work with agencies throughout Florida who are working hard for families but may not have scientific rigor behind their programming.
This new law is controversial for many states who rely on group care as an option for foster kids. Will this law finally do away with group homes? Will the prevention investment deter kids from foster care, so group homes are unnecessary? Will child welfare systems work harder to find quality foster families if they can’t default to a group home? With time we will have answers to these questions.
In sum, there are varying opinions about the Family First Prevention Act.. but there is one belief that should not be controversial. There should be effective prevention services for parents who want and need help to better care for their children so that they do not end up in foster care. I believe that. My colleagues believe it. And I think Congress voted for this bill because they believe it too.
April 26-27, 2018 Child Abuse Prevention Symposium: Register Today!