NCSL can help state child welfare systems develop ways to safely reduce the number of children in foster care. We can make presentations, informal briefings and testimony before committees and hearings; offer written research and analyses; or conduct informal conference calls with state child welfare administrators, legislators and legislative staff in other states to discuss their experiences with child welfare reform.
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The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 overhauled federal child welfare financing, and over the past two years states have reported financial and capacity barriers to planning and transitioning their child welfare systems. In response, on Dec. 20, 2019, as a part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (Sec. 602), the Family First Transition Act became law. The act provides financial relief for states as their child welfare systems develop prevention-focused infrastructure, and is intended to encourage timely implementation of the 2018 Family First Act.
Requirements for Evidence-Based Prevention Services Delayed
The 2018 Family First Act allows states, starting Oct. 1, 2019, to claim federal Title IV-E reimbursement for prevention services that help children, their parents and/or kinship caregivers avoid the need to remove children from their homes. Family first defines three levels of evidence (“well-supported,” “supported” and “promising”) for prevention services that federal Title IV-E will reimburse. It also requires that at least 50% of a state’s annual expenditures for Title IV-E prevention services and programs be for programs that are “well-supported” by evidence. The Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook is charged with identifying programs that meet the prescribed levels of evidence.
The new Family First Transition Act delays the 50% requirement, however, and allows states to receive funding for all three evidence categories in federal fiscal years 2020 and 2021. In federal fiscal year 2022 and 2023, 50% of a state’s prevention services and programs must be well-supported or supported. By federal fiscal year 2024, at least 50% must be well-supported.
Transition Funding Approved
Congress appropriated $500 million for a one-time transition fund that states can use for programs, services and operational costs associated with implementing Family First. Three percent of funding must be set aside for Native American tribes, and the rest will be allocated based on the Title IV-B Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services funding formula. These funds are available through the end of federal fiscal year 2021 and may not be used to match other federal funds. The latest Family First program instruction provides a specific example of how transition funding for kinship navigator programs will be handled.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the Children’s Bureau plans to award the transition grants in summer 2020, and released estimated state allocations under the Family First Transition Act. Legislators may want to consider how this funding and its timing affect their state budget and appropriations.
Funding for States with Expiring Demonstration Projects
Title IV-E waivers for foster families or services not authorized under traditional foster care programs ended on Sept. 30, 2019. The Family First Transition Act provides temporary grants to states with expiring waivers. These grants are provided in addition to other Title IV-E reimbursements. During federal fiscal year 2020, qualifying states will receive no less than 90% of the amount they received for their 2019 waiver, and in 2021 they will receive no less than 75% of what they received for their 2019 waiver.
Increased Funding to Expedite Work of the Federal Prevention Clearinghouse
The 2019 Appropriations Act also increased funding for the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse from $1 million to $2.75 million. This boost is intended to expedite state and tribal implementation of Family First by accelerating the review of prevention services and programs and determining of their level of evidence.
Eleven jurisdictions have submitted their five-year prevention plans to the Children’s Bureau for approval.
These plans outline the prevention services and programs the state or district intends to provide under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Upon approval, states will be eligible to receive funds provided through Family First.
At least three plans have been approved, and the remaining seven jurisdictions are awaiting a final response. Washington, D.C.’s plan was the first to be approved in October 2019, Utah followed in December and Arkansas’s revised plan was approved in February. The plans are roadmaps for how states will reform their child welfare systems over the next five years. familyfirstact.org has many of these prevention plans, as well as news and resources related to Family First. In addition, NCSL continues to track state activity related to Family First and is available to provide in person expert testimony upon request.