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 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.
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 →