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.
The second approach addresses the growing trend of kinship care across the country. The FFPSA creates funding for states to develop and build what are known as Kinship Navigator Programs (KNPs) – KNPs are critical for preparing relative caregivers to handle raising their relatives’ children while under guidance of the state. Before the FFPSA, however, there were no federal guidelines for what a given state’s KNP should look like or how they would be funded, which left some states unable to provide services, programs or financial assistance to relative caregivers. Under the new regulations, states will now be able to claim a 50 percent reimbursement for expenses related to Kinship Navigator Programs, reducing the burden on state budgets and ensuring that informal kinship caregivers can still get the funds needed to ensure the best outcomes for the children in their care. These shifts in the federal approach to kinship care won’t happen overnight, however, nor will they happen for free.
How Will The FFPSA Make These Changes?
To help fund these changes, the bill asks states to divest from what is known as “congregate care” – group homes and residential treatment facilities that care for foster children in a group setting without the use of traditional foster parents. These facilities often serve children with special emotional, behavioral or developmental needs, but as Foster and Adoptive Family Services has previously reported, states are increasingly moving away from the congregate care model. By reducing federal expenditures for congregate care, the FFPSA creates funding that will enable states to implement new prevention services and supports for relative caregivers that the child welfare community agrees are better for children in care.
The implementation process for the FFPSA stretches from 2018 all the way to 2027. Most provisions, however, are set to be implemented before the start of 2020 – roughly a year and a half from the time this article was published. Below is a brief overview of the changes that will be implemented this year:
Upon Enactment of the FFPSA:
The Federal Government will:
- Provide technical assistance to states so they can share best practices for prevention services
- Create a clearinghouse to develop and manage standards for prevention services
- Collect data and conduct evaluations relating to existing and future prevention services
- Amend and/or reauthorize funding programs to be more flexible in the ways states may use these programs’ resources to implement FFPSA changes
- Begin development on an interstate case processing system
The State Governments will:
- Establish health care protocols to prevent misdiagnosis of mental illness, disorders or disabilities for foster children
- Collect information and report on children in non-foster home settings
By October 1, 2018:
The Federal Government will:
- Provide guidance for the practice criteria for prevention services
- Identify model licensing standards for foster homes which states will need to abide by
The State Governments will:
- Be able to receive federal reimbursement for expenditures related to the development of evidence-based kinship navigator programs
- Document steps being taken to monitor and prevent child maltreatment fatalities (See: Foster Care Negligence, Abuse and Death)
- Establish procedures for criminal record and child abuse/neglect background checks for any adult working in group care settings that have foster placements.
(Click here for a full implementation schedule)
These changes represent a turning point in the nation’s child welfare systems. In a statement for Casey Family Programs, Dr. William C. Bell, President and CEO, said “This legislation makes it clear that our national child and family well-being response systems will not operate as though it is possible to fully address the well-being of children, without addressing the well-being of their families and their communities.” However, as previously reported, some states have more work to do than others. In California, recent efforts to enable relative caregivers to collect the same benefits as foster parents have resulted in a number of false-starts and stumbles, with kinship parents waiting for long periods of time to receive appropriate compensation. The FFPSA will serve as a guide to help states improve their internal systems and properly support relative caregivers.
The FFPSA and New Jersey
As a leader in the child welfare community, New Jersey has already acknowledged the value of relative caregivers and the critical need to help families before foster care placement becomes necessary. As the 2017 Outcomes Report and Executive Summary from the state’s Department of Children and Families acknowledges, “Removing a child from their home can have significant impact on, and create additional trauma for, the child and parent.” Currently, there are 41,945 children benefiting from in-home services that help their families avoid a potentially painful and traumatic entry into the foster care system. These in-home efforts, however, began almost fourteen years ago. From 2004, when New Jersey began emphasizing in-home care, to April of 2018, out-of-home placements were cut nearly in half, from more than 12,000 to 6,225. The Commissioner’s Monthly Report shows that of those 6,225 children in out-of-home placement, more than half are currently in formal, state-sponsored kinship care. However, despite an infrastructure that is in apparent alignment with the FFPSA, New Jersey will still have to be ready to adjust to the specifics of these changes, including prevention services and model licensing. In October, the Foster and Adoptive Family Services management team and board of directors will be convening for a strategic planning meeting to discuss how New Jersey can prepare for the specifics of these federal changes and guidelines as they are implemented over the coming years.
To learn more about the FFPSA, you can find a summary of the changes from the Childrens’ Defense Fund here.
To find specifics about Kinship Navigator Programs and how they function across the country, click here.
To take a closer look at how kinship care has been on the rise, click here.