Family First Prevention Services Act Will Change the Lives of Children in Foster Care

Posted February 12, 2018
The Family Prevention Services Act offers states flexibility when it comes to federal funds to support children at risk of entering foster care.

These are uncer­tain times in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., with a brief shut­down of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in the first hours of Fri­day being the lat­est sign of con­tin­ued tur­bu­lence. But some­times out of unusu­al cir­cum­stances can come unusu­al break­throughs, and one came last week: leg­is­la­tion with bipar­ti­san sup­port tucked into the bud­get bill that we think will have a major pos­i­tive effect on the lives of children.

The final spend­ing bill approved by both hous­es of Con­gress and signed by the pres­i­dent Fri­day incor­po­rates the Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act (FFP­SA) — a piece of leg­is­la­tion for which hun­dreds of orga­ni­za­tions focused on the well-being of chil­dren, and both Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, have expressed support.

On behalf of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, I am pleased to join with many oth­ers in applaud­ing Con­gress for act­ing in a way that will keep more fam­i­lies togeth­er. Years ago, Jim Casey estab­lished the Foun­da­tion named for his moth­er to focus on a pow­er­ful truth: chil­dren do best in fam­i­lies. FFP­SA is one of the most impor­tant pieces of leg­is­la­tion in this domain in at least two decades.

FFP­SA will restruc­ture how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment spends mon­ey on child wel­fare — in large and small ways that stand to improve chal­leng­ing con­di­tions that pre­vail today. For exam­ple, this leg­is­la­tion makes avail­able ear­li­er in the process some fed­er­al mon­ey that agen­cies used to have to wait to spend on fos­ter care. Now it can be spent on crit­i­cal ser­vices that can pre­vent the need for fos­ter care — from in-home train­ing and fam­i­ly ther­a­py to men­tal health and sub­stance abuse programs.

The leg­is­la­tion will also ensure more chil­dren in fos­ter care are placed with fam­i­lies by direct­ing fed­er­al reim­burse­ments to sup­port place­ments in fam­i­lies and end­ing reim­burse­ments when states inap­pro­pri­ate­ly place kids in group facilities.

These are evi­dence-based approach­es informed by the expe­ri­ences of case­work­ers, par­ents and chil­dren them­selves. We know from the data that kids have the best chance to thrive if all pos­si­ble strate­gies for keep­ing them with their fam­i­lies or in fam­i­ly set­tings are explored. Near­ly half a mil­lion chil­dren are in fos­ter care in the Unit­ed States today, a num­ber that is at grave risk of increas­ing in the short and medi­um term because of the opi­oid crisis.

Con­gress took a step toward doing right by these kids, and chil­dren who are at risk for place­ment, with the pas­sage of FFP­SA. Of course, these remain plans on paper, dol­lars yet unal­lo­cat­ed, chil­dren still await­ing the help rather than receiv­ing it. It is essen­tial that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and the states work togeth­er to imple­ment FFP­SA effec­tive­ly and efficiently.

The Casey Foun­da­tion stands ready to con­tribute to suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion. Our evi­dence-based prac­tice work can inform process­es relat­ing to the pre­ven­tion of unneed­ed place­ments, and we are pleased to pro­vide finan­cial sup­port for the Chil­dren Need Amaz­ing Par­ents (CHAMPS) cam­paign, whose approach­es pro­mote the high­est qual­i­ty of fos­ter par­ent­ing for those chil­dren who can­not remain with their birth fam­i­lies. The Foun­da­tion’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group will work with agen­cies and oth­er stake­hold­ers that seek guidance.

So there is much work ahead. For now, we should cel­e­brate a long-await­ed, touch­stone moment in the con­tin­u­ing work to make chil­dren’s lives bet­ter in the Unit­ed States.

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