Family First Act Feedback: Comments from Chronicle’s TweetChat on Major Child Welfare Reform Law

Earlier this month, the Family First Prevention Services Act became law, ushering in significant changes to the way that the federal government funds child welfare systems. The law is aimed at providing more federal resources to help families in crisis stay together, and less federal help for placing foster youth into congregate care placements.

Click here to read our complete breakdown of the changes.

Last week, The Chronicle of Social Change hosted a public discussion on Twitter to solicit answers on six questions about the Family First Act, which will start to take effect in October of 2018. Following are a collection of responses to those questions.

Some notes on these responses:

We only included responses from organizations or people we could confirm the identity of.

We have slightly edited these responses to adapt them from the standard shorthand of Twitter. Absolutely no changes have been made to the context of any responses.

How do you feel about the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act as part of this month’s budget deal?

Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), a national advocacy group:

The passage of the Family First Act is a pivotal moment for children and families because of the new law’s long-overdue funding reforms to increase the child welfare system’s focus on preventing children from entering foster care. [Click here to read CDF’s blog on the act.]

Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, based at The George Washington University:

Great public health approach to improving outcomes for kids and building resilient communities; check our blog on it.

First Focus, a national advocacy group:

First Focus is thrilled that this legislation was enacted to provide more prevention services that keep children in families where they can thrive. The State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC), will be active in helping to shape the implementation of the law.

The County Welfare Directors Association of California:

Unfortunately, our organization opposed the Family First Act. It still includes issues that will particularly undermine California’s efforts, which we and many other California organizations consistently raised over the last two years. 

Children’s Rights, a nonprofit that conducts class-action litigation against state and local child welfare systems:

Children’s Rights supports the Family First Act and we look forward to making sure that it is effectively implemented for child welfare.

DePaul Community Resources, a child welfare services provider in Central and Southwest Virginia:

Here in Virginia, we are very excited that we will begin approaching at risk children and families from a prevention standpoint and being proactive, rather than reactive. The push to ensure children are placed in family-like settings instead of congregate care is wonderful!

Nico’Lee Biddle, outpatient therapist at the Three Rivers Adoption Council in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

I am cautiously optimistic, because I believe it is a great first step in the right direction of completely overhauling the current culture of the child welfare system, however I appreciate the difficulty we may face during implementation.

Sharon McDonald, senior fellow for families and children at the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

“Excited about the potential of marrying the evidenced-based interventions with some financial assistance.”

Laura Boyd, director of public policy for the Family-Focused Treatment Association:

We are delighted to see major switch in focus to keeping families together and out of foster care. Also, support for reunification if removal from the home is necessary.

What aspects of the Family First Act do you think will truly help vulnerable children and youth?

Children’s Defense Fund:

The Family First Act recognizes that children do best in families and makes important steps to ensure children in foster care are placed in family foster care instead of group care that doesn’t meet their needs.

Foster Club, a national network for current and former foster youth:

The Family First Act includes provisions to support older youth, including revisions to the Chafee program. Hasn’t been talked about much, so we’re excited to discuss!

First Focus:

Funding proven prevention services that strengthen families is key. By providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment and parental training, Family First will allow states to ensure children are not unnecessarily removed from their homes.

The American Academy Pediatrics:

Children in or at-risk for entering foster care are vulnerable; they are more likely to be exposed to trauma and often have complex medical needs. The Family First Act offers states federal funding for evidence-based treatment and services to support families.

The Family First Act addresses the opioid epidemic, invests in prevention to help eliminate the need for family separation, ensures quality for group foster care settings, improves services for older youth, and better supports kinship families.

The National Foster Parent Association:

Up-front prevention and more in-home services will help keep more families together and out of foster care. For those who must enter foster care, it will support these children in family foster homes instead of group homes and institutions.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), a national membership organization based in Portland, Oregon:

This will help active efforts for Native children to prevent removal and reunify children with their families. It helps children stay with their families when undergoing substance abuse treatment, helps train judges and attorneys on issues that children who aren’t in foster homes face, creates new data for children in institutions, and requires prevention services to be trauma-informed.

DePaul Community Resources:

Incorporating the reforms passed in HR 4472 [requiring the creation of electronic interstate case-processing systems by 2027] to create an electronic system for children being placed across state lines will help workers greatly. This will create a streamlined process to place children with relatives who may be out of state.

The Human Services Chamber, which supports human services in Central Ohio:

The alleviation of the many stressors on the foster care system, amplified by the addiction and opioid epidemic, will have tremendous ripple effects across so very many sectors of our system.

Phenomenal Families, a California program empowering pregnant and parenting youth:

More support and resources for pregnant and parenting foster youth to prevent intergenerational trauma and system involvement.

Voice for Adoption (VFA):

The opportunity to access Title IV-E funds for prevention services is significant! VFA is excited with the passing of the Family First Act. VFA hopes that the same services promised to children at-risk of entering foster care will be accessible to adoptive children.

Nico’Lee Biddle:

The ability to use the funds through Title IV-E for prevention services is a game changer. Currently, the amount of funding for prevention services from Title IV-B is grossly inadequate, leaving families unable to access resources to help their family until after removal.

Another benefit is rewarding states for using interventions that have been proven to be successful. Also, setting standards for congregate care settings, to be used when necessary, is so important to reducing trauma young people experience in these settings.

Sara Goscha, a senior consultant for Public Consulting Group:

The prevention plan services to include mental health, substance abuse, and in-home services for candidates for foster care, and children whose permanency plan is at risk for disruption! Children with safe families who have the right services is a goal to strive for.

Susan Grundberg, child welfare consultant:

In addition to prevention, the reduction in congregate care will be an enormous implementation challenge in many places but we know it can be done. We’ve done it. And it is absolutely critical for youth.

Kellie Becker, independent living manager at St. Francis Community Services:

Prevention services that assist in unnecessary removal of children and additional trauma. Sometimes wrapping families up with services and support is truly all that is needed.

Laura Boyd:

Many aspects. One major one is more flexibility in approving/licensing of kinship placements. So many relatives and grandfamilies are stepping up to aid their loved ones.

Are there any aspects of the Family First Act that you think could be ineffective or harmful?

National Foster Parent Association:

To make family foster care available for all children regardless of their level of need, we must be able to recruit and retain more families. This will be difficult given the way many foster families are treated across the country at this time.

DePaul Community Resources:

We are a Treatment Foster Care (TFC) agency and are curious how this will impact children with higher needs and special needs being placed in TFC homes that are specifically trained to work with children with higher levels of trauma and attachment challenges.

National Indian Child Welfare Association:

We’re unclear about tribal applications for some of the provisions and are hopeful that tribal access will be enhanced and culturally-based services will be allowed.

National Coalition for Child Protection Reform:

The great big loopholes that allow awful congregate care to not just survive, but thrive. Congressional Research Service estimates only a 3 perecnt reduction in institutionalizing kids — over 10 years!

Nico’Lee Biddle:

I have concerns for states having the option of “opting in” to the prevention aspect of the The Family First Act. In some states, getting the culture to buy into the idea that parents don’t inherently deserve to lose their children for substance abuse could be a problem.

With the increase in funds for kinship care, Family First Act also has the potential to leave some children, with “easy” cases, to be given less reunification services because they’re with family. I believe this happened in my situation 14 years ago.

Sara Goscha:

We must be cognizant some of these changes will result in huge shifts in long-standing policy and practice, so having patience during the implementation process is key to achieving sustainable change.

Laura Boyd:

The time frame for implementation remains the same as when proposed in December 2016, so states and agencies need to get moving. I hope there is sufficient funding, support and time to develop “well-supported” practices by 2026.

Susan Grundberg:

The residential care implementation must be accompanied by major investments in youth-specific recruitment (including kin and non-kin), reunification services to heal youth and families, and excellence in foster parent recruitment and trauma supports.

Thinking about service providers, government systems and businesses, do you see any potential winners and losers from the passage of the Family First Act?

FosterClub:

We hope the Family First Act makes a loser out of facilities that warehouse youth, specifically congregate care facilities that don’t place emphasis on helping youth heal, establish normalcy, and ultimately secure permanence.

National Foster Parent Association:

Children will be the winners if they can be identified with a qualified, well-trained and supported foster or kinship family. Group care providers that take young children may go out of business if they are not able to adapt to the new laws and requirements.

National Indian Child Welfare Association:

Tribes who are operating the Title IV-E program will benefit from this law and so will state agencies that serve Native families and children!

DePaul Community Resources:

The children who achieve permanency in a more timely manner are the winners. Also, the families who are given services directed toward prevention and not removal also win.

Children’s Defense Fund:

Children and their families are the winners. The Family First Act will help keep families together by connecting families to proven services in mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment and in-home parent skill programs.

Sara Goscha:

Families and children needing services to keep the family intact, especially children already in permanent homes through adoption or guardianship, are real winners with this legislation if the states use the options afforded them.

What are some programs that are doing a good job of keeping families together and could qualify for federal funding under the Family First Act?

First Focus:

This study shows how home visiting programs strengthen parenting skill, helping parents with knowledge, coaching referrals that improve the health, education and economic stability of children and significantly reduce the likelihood of child maltreatment.

National Indian Child Welfare Association:

In our headquarters of Portland, Oregon, Native American Rehabilitation Association has had a program for several years that allows parents to receive in-patient treatment and bring their children. It is hugely successful and they might qualify!

National Coalition for Child Protection Reform:

That’s the problem. Thirty percent of foster youth could be home right now if parents had decent housing; no housing aid in Family First. Study: Raise minimum wage $1 an hour, cut “neglect” 10 percent — but no cash aid in Family First.

Nico’Lee Biddle:

Family-Based Substance Abuse Treatment programs have started to gain popularity throughout the United States.

Sara Goscha:

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and Eye Momement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment services have a strong rate of evidence to treat mental health especially related to trauma in children! Also check out the START program in Kentucky as promising research evidence!

In what ways are you unclear about the potential impact of the Family First Act on your system?

Fostering Change New Hampshire, a foster parent support organization:

I’m curious if people think that it will cause a rise in guardianship for kinship providers as permanency versus transitioning children through foster care to adoption if reunification is no longer an option.

National Indian Child Welfare Association:

We are unclear about how the Kinship Navigator Program evidence-based requirements, relative foster family licensing requirements, prevention services and other beneficial requirements apply to tribes in agreements with states on Title IV-E.

National Foster Parent Association:

Still have a lot of questions on how each state/county will determine how to implement the elements of the bill.

DePaul Community Resource:

Again, we are unclear with how this impacts treatment foster care agencies. Will TFC agencies begin approving kinship placements as TFC families in order to receive training to care for their loved one’s needs and receive the wraparound services that TFC offers?

Currently, in Virginia, our local child welfare agencies typically approve kinship foster families with whom they place the children instead of referring them to a TFC agency and having us approve the kinship family.

So we are interested if we will see less children being referred to TFC agencies and being placed with kinship placements that may not have received the training to meet the specific needs of children with higher emotional/behavioral needs, or those with other special needs (developmental and intellectual disabilities, medical needs, etc.)

Foster Care Alumni of America-Oklahoma Chapter (FCAA):

FCAA is interested in guidance on state-level implementation. Any guidance on implementation and guidance in youth-friendly language will be appreciated.

Sara Goscha

Hearing a lot of people are thinking through how tog implement in alignment with all the other planned initiatives they had to maximize funding.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.