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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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.

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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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Appealing to Kinship Care: US Supreme Court Sides with Kentucky Kinship Parents

States continue to put more of an emphasis on kinship care with each new study that backs the benefits of placing children in the care of relatives rather than traditional foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that nationally the number of children in both formal and informal kinship care grew by nearly 100,000 between 2012 and 2015. However, while the national number continues to grow, Kentucky has witnessed a decline from nearly 55,000 children being raised by relatives in 2014 down to 53,000 just a year later.

kinship parents

Paula Sherlock, the chief judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson Family Court, told the Courier Journal, “Some relatives simply can’t afford to take custody of children without financial support.” As covered in our previous article, “Grandma Underground: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy,” the impact the 2013 state budget cuts had on kinship parents which resulted in them losing their monthly subsidy. Sherlock went on to say that, “I think the loss of Kinship Care has been a definite deterrent to relative placement… For people on fixed incomes, taking in a grandchild is a serious financial issue.”
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“Grandma Underground”: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy

2013 was a difficult year for the child welfare system in Kentucky as budget estimates failed to cover its growth and several funding cuts were made. Among these cuts was the kinship care subsidy, which helps kinship parents shoulder the additional cost of raising their relatives. Now, kinship parents across the state are coming together through what Kentucky grandparent Norma Hatfield calls the “Grandma Underground.”

Kinship parents receive funds thanks to the Fostering Connections Act.

Across the nation, kinship care has largely been considered the way forward in child welfare. As covered in our previous article, “Kinship Care in the United States: An Overview,” we explained how child welfare in the US is shifting to rely more and more heavily on kinship caregivers. This comes in the wake of studies and other evidence that life with relatives provides fewer disruptions and more positive outcomes for children in care. To ensure fewer disruptions, kinship programs employ what is known as “presumptive eligibility” – that is, the state presumes that a relative caregiver is eligible to be a foster parent and will place the child with them before the standard background checks and inspections are completed, with the understanding the caregiver in question complete such processes as soon as possible. Presumptive eligibility also allows kinship caregivers to receive the kinship care subsidy while being processed.
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Kinship Care Trends Across the Nation

Widely regarded by child welfare professionals as the best placement option for foster children, kinship care has been on the rise in the United States. Collectively, child welfare agencies have been pushing for more kinship placements as reports show that outcomes improve for children placed into the care of relatives.   These kinship care trends are signs that our child welfare system is working.  From a legislative standpoint, however, the major breakthrough in kinship care came in the form of the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCSIA, also known as the Fostering Connections Act).

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Laying the Groundwork for Kinship Care Trends

Passed in 2008, this bill paved the way for kinship care throughout the nation. Although “kinship care” as a concept was introduced to the US child welfare system as early as 1978 (way it was vs way it is link), it wasn’t until 1990s that it was regulated and supported by federal funds, becoming endorsed by the federal government as a specific program within foster care. At that time, more than 75% of the children in kinship care were in private or unlicensed homes.

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