(February 9, 2018: Washington, D.C.) With bipartisan support, President Trump signed The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) into law, significantly reforming the child welfare system by changing the priorities of federal funding to promote family preservation, and to discourage taking children into state care. FFPA uses federal dollars that were once spent on incentives that ripped families apart to now working to keep families together, and uses state care/foster homes as a last resort when a child’s safety is at risk.
According to a federal report, in the year 2016, there were 437,000+ American children in foster care and that number is steadily increasing each year. Of that number, 45% were placed in a home with a non-relative. The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY1 2016 Estimates as of Oct 20, 2017 No. 24
William Bell, president of Casey Family Programs, testified at a Senate HELP Committee that for every $7 spent on foster care, there is only $1 spent on prevention. From 2013-2016, the number of children entering foster care increased by an average of 10,000 per year.
The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)
“To amend parts B and E of title IV of the Social Security Act to invest in funding prevention and family services to help keep children safe and supported at home, to ensure that children in foster care are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like, and appropriate settings, and for other purposes. “Titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act authorize the largest federal programs dedicated for child welfare. H.R.253 – Family First Prevention Services Act of 2017
Titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act authorize the largest federal programs dedicated for child welfare. For more information on purposes and services covered by Title IV-E and IV-B visit: OLR Research Reports: State-By-State Comparison of Foster Care and Adoption Costs (2005)
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R), Florida and Rep. Sander Levin (D), Michigan
“This bill makes sure that children are protected and families are not split up unnecessarily…Our current system creates a perverse incentive to place children in foster care. Breaking up families should be a last resort.”- U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan, President Signs Buchanan Bill to Help Kids
More than 500 state and national child welfare organizations support the bill, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Child Welfare League of America.
What Is The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA):
FFPSA reforms the way federal dollars are spent on child welfare. FFPSA replaces the traditional system that gave incentives for taking children into state care with new incentives that encourage keeping families together. FFPSA does this by giving federal funding to provide treatment and supportive services to families. FFPSA will provide an estimated $1.5 billion over 10 years to prevent children from entering foster care.
Under FFPSA, states can access federal funding to pay for substance abuse, mental health and parenting skill programs and other evidence-based prevention services so that children can be kept with families, when possible, rather than being immediately placed into state care (as the traditional system had done). Child welfare will now be working with families to keep children safe at home while also ensuring they get the help and services they need.
FFPSA also limits the amount of money spent on group homes to ensure that more children are placed with families – either by kinship placement or foster homes.
Concerns About FFPSA:
Concerns have been raised that FFPSA does not go far enough in the programs and services covered. Programs not funded include domestic violence, peer mentoring or support groups, crisis intervention, daycare and housing assistance. Programs not covered by FFPSA will need to be implemented and paid for with federal, state, local or private (community orgs, non-profits, families etc) dollars. Or, may not be offered to families at all.
There may be a solution for this… The FFPSA will cover case management services. A case manager is tasked with providing families with options for programs and services, and then helping to coordinate care. So if the family were eligible for some programs under FFPSA funding but also had to use other sources in order to meet additional needs, the case manager could help with identifying resources and assist with collaboration between the various providers.
Another concern is that FFPSA makes kinship placement more difficult. FFPSA allows children to live informally with a relative for up to 12 months while the parents receive services to avoid placing a child into foster care. However, the relative will not receive any financial assistance unless they become a paid foster parent. If the relative were to become a foster parent, the biological parents are no longer eligible for services covered by FFPSA. Informal care also does not provide a child with a social worker, so they are not being monitored which could leave a child vulnerable to abuse.
Another concern is that FFPSA’s limitations on group homes and congregate care does not take into consideration the lack of foster homes available to children. FFPSA does not offer an alternate remedy to placement if a foster home is not available (or feasible) and a group home is not permitted under its rules.
It would seem to be common sense that if, possible, kinship placement should be offered as an alternative. It would be in the best interest of the child for the FFPSA to address problems with kinship placement so that children are placed in homes, and that there is oversight as well as funding available.
For information more on Kinship Care: How to Create a Kin First Foster Care System
For Information on Concerns with FFPSA: The Family First Act: A Bad Bill that Won’t Go Away/
FFPSA is a historic bill that reforms child welfare funding and with it, reforms priorities in the system overall. By allocating federal dollars for programs and services that support child safety while offering a way for at-risk families to become stronger, and re-stabilized, a greater value will be felt in healthier, healed communities that will thrive for generations to come.
Yet, concerns have been raised. It will be critical for federal and state governments to work together to effectively implement FFPSA, and address concerns. Solutions to shortfalls of the FFPSA will need to be addressed with continued bipartisan effort, and utilizing community and public input when developing programs, policies and procedures. Oversight and transparency are also critical to ensure the success of FFPSA.
FFPSA has the potential to set an example that could lead to additional reforms in other areas of the system that continue to operate in the traditional model – family court is also influenced by federal dollars under the Social Security Act. Every day in America’s family courts, children are needlessly ripped from the arms of fit, loving parents in proceedings that are unjust, and violate the state laws, and Constitutional rights of parents.
Is sweeping reform possible in family court? We only need to look to FFPSA to say it can be done. Change has not come easily; for years, child welfare has been hotly debated while children lingered in a failing system, many being further abused and neglected. The “system” is often perceived as big, unapproachable, and all-powerful. And it’s problems – too difficult, too complex to ever solve. The passage of FFPSA shows that reform is possible in child welfare; and that people – parents, advocates, professionals, community organizations, leaders, etc – can solve it’s problems when working together for a common good. This in turn, gives hope that long-awaited reform can be addressed in the related area of family court.
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