Understanding the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

A groundbreaking piece of legislation has passed through Congress and is seeing the beginning stages of implementation across the country.  The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), originally designed as its own bill, has been passed into law attached to a government spending bill.  The FFPSA has implications for all child welfare providers in the United States but finally brings the federal government in line with what child welfare studies have been saying for years:  kinship care is the most effective form of foster care.  The provisions of the FFPSA pave the way to move foster care away from a system that relies on people who are, effectively, strangers to the children being placed with them and bolsters states’ ability to support and grow kinship care communities.  To do this, the bill will divest from congregate (group home) care and shift funds into what could be called the “Foster Care New Deal.”  This legislation has two primary approaches – it will create prevention services and family supports to address the causes that lead to foster care placement while developing the infrastructure relative caregivers need to allow them to care for the children for whom prevention services were insufficient.

What Does the FFPSA Do?

The first approach, prevention services, has the goal of reducing the need for child welfare systems entirely.  Through the establishment of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs and in-home parenting skill programs, the FFPSA will help states work with biological parents to ensure that not only do their children get to experience bright futures but also that those children get to do so in their own home, with their biological family.

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Kinship Navigator Programs:  How the FFPSA Empowers States to Help Kinship Parents

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), recently passed through Congress, has massive implications for kinship caregivers in the United States.  As previously reported on this site, kinship care, the placement of children with relatives instead of traditional foster parents, has been increasingly viewed as the best form of foster care.  This is largely because it uses a child’s existing connections with family for placement instead of relying on people whom the child may not know and might have trouble integrating with.  Traditional foster care placement, although intended to serve the best interests of children, often introduces its own brand of pain and trauma when a child is removed from their family.  Unfortunately, existing practices in the child welfare system have created momentum in states which can lead to kinship care being underfunded when compared to traditional foster care or congregate (group home) care placements.  Over the course of more than fifteen years, Kinship Navigator Programs (KNPs) have been gaining traction as a way to bolster informal kinship care to provide better outcomes for the children living with relative caregivers.

Initially started as state and county-based initiatives, KNPs gained their first national sponsorship through Family Connection Grants provided by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.  However, with only two rounds of these grants occurring in 2009 and 2012, KNPs have not been able to truly flourish in every state.  According to Grandfamilies.org, as a result of budgetary crises, only the KNPs in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Washington state have survived into the present day.

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Gun Control and Foster Care

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students continue to push for gun control reform and the national debate rages on, one population of parents is facing an extra hurdle in gun laws – foster parents. Foster parents regularly help children deal with the same issues that plagued the young, traumatized Nikolas Cruz, and as the threat of increased gun control regulations grows, they are fighting for their right to own, carry and operate firearms while caring for foster children.

First, it’s important to understand how we got here. On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz committed what is one of the most discussed mass shootings in American history. His story, however, began much earlier than that – his biological mother, a drug addict who was incarcerated at the time of his birth, gave him up for adoption to Lynda Cruz when he was three days old . After turning 10, he was diagnosed with autism and later, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.
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The State of Kinship Care Legislation 2017, Part II: The Way Forward

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. To read Part 1, “The State of Kinship Care 2017: Best Intentions,” click here.

In Part 1 of this analysis, we discussed the issues California was facing as it rolled out its resource family approval (RFA) process. We began exploring the ways that all kinship caregivers across the nation encounter obstacles as they attempt to provide the best care for their children. Specifically, we delved into federally-based solutions that Congress has begun implementing, but these broad stroke measures, while helpful, simply cannot directly address some of the issues that individual states face as they promote kinship care initiatives. Often, these issues stem from the unforeseen consequences of operating within a bureaucracy as state governments attempt to balance the rights of parents (both biological and foster) with the best outcomes for children in kinship care.

kinship caregivers

For instance, California’s RFA process that is now preventing kinship caregivers from receiving stipends was intended to take only 90 days. However, in their attempts to impose more rigorous standards for resource parents and provide better outcomes and avoid tragedies (See: “Foster Care Negligence, Abuse and Death”), legislators accidentally created a practice that was inhibiting placements. According to the Chronicle of Social Change, despite the launch of the reforms “some county workers were unaware that extended family members were able to receive money from the state as resources families.” With workers unaware of the most up-to-date legislation, the child welfare system effectively functions under old, outdated laws.
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Defining “Normal”: Creating a Sense of Normalcy For Foster Youth

For many, childhood is marked with memories of sleepovers and vacations or passing the driver’s exam and taking that first drive to an after-school job. For foster children, however, it can be difficult to share in these experiences that so many consider normal. As wards of the state, foster children are at the mercy of the legal system – their foster parents are required to go jump through several legal hoops such as restrictions on car insurance, required background checks for potential chaperones or pre-scheduled court dates and visitation periods. Some of these even require the foster parents to personally fund the endeavors. Child welfare providers across the country are increasingly recognizing that these regulations, once thought to protect children, actually impede the foster care system from providing the best care possible.

What Is Normalcy for Foster Youth and Why Is It Important?

“Before, we were trying to keep kids from getting hurt…. We put them in a room and made sure nothing happened to them,” Mike Watson, an executive for a Florida foster care agency, said of previous foster care standards. “We don’t want supervisors. We want people to parent. We had created this artificial relationship where you had state-sanctioned individuals in a home acting like a jailer.” Now, there is a push for “normalcy.” Normalcy is a standard of care that enables foster youth to share in the everyday activities that allow them to develop the skills that will build a true sense of independence. But what, exactly, is normalcy for foster youth? Continue reading

The State of Kinship Care Legislation 2017, Part I: Best Intentions

Every year, child welfare agencies across the country are increasing their emphasis on kinship care, a form of foster care that gives placement preference to relative caregivers instead of traditional foster parents who are strangers to the children placed with them. Widely recognized as the better way to care for foster children, kinship care legislation has been making its way to law for the better part of the last decade. However, kinship placements are very different from traditional ones – the complex intrafamily dynamics and unique family relationships combined with support systems that fail to account for these aspects of kinship care often mean that legislation can fall short of helping relative caregivers. In 2017, California introduced its Resource Family Approval process (RFA), a reform that, in part, aims to register and financially compensate relative caregivers in the same ways that the state handles traditional foster parents.

A typical complaint of relative caregivers is a lack of state support so this reform seemed to be, from the legislators’ perspectives, a slam dunk – getting these kinship families registered with the state would make it easier to pay them the appropriate stipends while also linking them up to necessary supports beyond the traditional financial assistance.

Very quickly, however, flaws with the system began to emerge. “I’m actively expecting my landlord to show up at any point in time and hand me a three-day notice and start the eviction process,” Mahoganie LaFranks, a Los Angeles kinship provider, said. “I love this kid, but I am completely petrified.” LaFranks had begun the RFA process in September of 2017, but had been caring for a teen since January. By the time December rolled around, the process was still not complete – meaning LaFranks was not receiving the $923 monthly stipend that resource families typically receive in California. With many new responsibilities regarding the teen but without the extra money, LaFranks found herself behind on rent and struggling to find a job that fits into her parenting schedule. Continue reading