President Donald Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (HR 1892) in 2018. Included in the package was the Family First Prevention Services Act, which has the potential to dramatically change child welfare systems across the country.
One of the major changes the act seeks to bring about is how Title IV-E funds can be spent by states. Prior to Family First, Title IV-E funds could only be used to help with the costs of foster care maintenance for eligible children; administrative expenses to manage the program; training for staff, foster parents and certain private agency staff; adoption assistance; and kinship guardianship assistance.
Under Family First, states, territories and tribes with approved Title IV-E plans have the option to use these funds for prevention services that would allow “candidates for foster care” to stay with their parents or relatives. States are then reimbursed for prevention services for up to 12 months. States must have a trauma-informed prevention plan, and services need to be rated by the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse as promising, supported or well-supported to receive federal reimbursement.
The act also seeks to curtail the use of congregate or group care for children and instead places a new emphasis on family foster homes. With limited exceptions, the federal government will not reimburse states for children placed in group care settings for more than two weeks. Approved settings, known as qualified residential treatment programs, must use a trauma-informed treatment model and employ registered or licensed nursing staff and other licensed clinical staff. The child must be formally assessed within 30 days of placement to determine if their needs can be met by family members in a family foster home or another approved setting.
Certain institutions are exempt from the two-week limitation, but even they are generally limited to 12-month placements. Additionally, to be eligible for federal reimbursement, the act generally limits the number of children allowed in a foster home to six.
In response to states reporting significant financial and capacity barriers to transforming their child welfare systems, Congress approved Family First Transition Act in 2019. The act encouraged timely implementation of the Family First act by providing financial relief for states as their child welfare systems develop prevention-focused infrastructure.
Below is a more in-depth look at the Family First Prevention Services Act.