The Family First Act is Long Overdue

A recent article by The Chronicle of Social Change Publisher Daniel Heimpel highlights comments and concerns about the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which were voiced again last week by some California advocates.

I found one statement that is both sadly accurate and concisely reflects the push for amendments. He states, “the webinar is the latest in a slugfest between supporters of Family First and key administrators and advocates in California, who say that the bill was rushed, will hurt their bottom line and will derail state-level reform efforts already underway.”

Opinion_Feature_ImageMuch of the criticism about the process surrounding FFPSA is that while the “discussion draft” circulated for several months, the published bill appeared “rushed” so as to deny further amendments.

This criticism may be based on “perspective”: comments were sought by the Senate authors throughout this past year and many modifications were made on the basis of new input. Yes, the final bill had no time for modification when it appeared in the House and yes, some changes were a surprise, and yes, some changes are needed still in order to provide for smooth and reasonable implementation.

Time remaining for action in the 114th is very short. So a lot of discussion, a lot of opinions, and some louder voices are all working to be heard. “Rushed” is up for debate. Many of us advocates have been working on foster care reform for several years.

Does that define “slugfest?” No. It reflects passion, urgency, varying goals and preferences, and new knowledge and outcomes from scientific research. To suggest the debate around Family First is a ”slugfest” discounts the genuine and needed dialogue from every side so that all issues are addressed as soon as possible and certainly before implementation in October 2019, should the measure pass.

Heimpel points out quite candidly that some California advocates say FFPSA “will hurt their bottom line.” Indeed, rules and regulations on small businesses and state contracts on child caring agencies are onerous, often making for an unfriendly business climate and shaky chances for success. California has certainly led amazing, positive changes in child welfare in many areas in recent years through increased collaboration among law makers, policy institutes, professional organizations, and family and child advocates.

But we cannot lose sight of the paramount requirement that the focus of our policy must be the children who need us. Nothing else is acceptable.

Under that lens, a “rushed” bill, business bottom lines, and re-routing of some state-level reforms lose their importance and certainly their primacy.

Helping families stay together or successfully reunite, professionally addressing substance abuse and the impact on the family, and discovering responsible ways of living in the community become paramount. Protecting against violence and abuse, providing safety both physical and emotional, and decisions based on accurate assessment, placement, and treatment must be our focus … as advocates, as lawmakers, as parents and as businesses.

The concerns from the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the John Burton Foundation and Social Change Partners are legitimate and need addressing. This can be accomplished by way of guidance in the three years until implementation. In some cases, a straight correction of misinterpretation of the FFPSA will bring needed assurances.

For example, Social Change Partners is apprehensive about the 12-month limit on prevention services; however, FFPSA is designed so that episodes of 12-month service intervention can be repeated.

The Alliance for Children’s Rights is concerned about a lack of support for kin who are so important in this system of care. However, FFPSA allows the same therapeutic supports for kin that would be available to a bio-family to serve the needs of children in care. It goes further to encourage unique consideration of kinship needs, training, and strengths in approving kinship homes for licensing.

Public social service agencies are rightly concerned about a lack of placements with tighter regulation of congregate care, and private businesses are concerned about how this will impact their bottom line in this reorganization.

These concerns are deserving of thoughtful response and consideration. However, FFPSA, though limited in scope and promise from that first draft, sets a new direction for vulnerable children and families that is based on research and limitations which are imposed politically by appropriations.

As a young woman, my first house was modest, but it was exciting and a far step above a college dorm. My third home had a pool, housed a growing family, and supported more amenities than I ever imagined. The home I live in now is smaller and well-adapted for my needs, my enjoyment, and my living productively and comfortably.

Any great endeavor follows such a path with hard work and determination. Such is the same for FFPSA. Our overriding challenge is to change what we must no longer delay.

This is a great start to something big! Kids cannot wait. We must push forward to passage now.

Laura Boyd
, Ph.D., is the Public Policy Director for the Family Focused Treatment Association (FFTA) – formerly the Foster Family-based Treatment Association.

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