Exclusive: At Least Seventeen States Have Requested Delay of Family First Act Since November

The Family First Act was signed into law in February 2018, and mostly takes effect in October 2019.

Youth Services Insider has heard a range of numbers thrown around lately in regard to how many states plan to delay implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, which mostly takes effect in October. Several sources have indicated as few as 13 will implement on day one.

But according to information The Chronicle of Social Change has obtained from the federal government, it could be less. Only 17 states have officially indicated intent to seek a delay, according to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the agency that oversees child welfare funding at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The list of states was obtained by The Chronicle after months of requests, beginning with a normal inquiry to ACF. After filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we were denied again. This week, nearly four months after our appeal of that denial was filed, ACF provided a list of states that have requested a delay.

Based on the message received from HHS’ FOIA office, it appears this list of 17 includes states that submitted a notice between November of 2018 and the present. November 9 was the nominal date that ACF had asked states for some indication of what they expected to do, though it was not a hard deadline.

“The attached list is what has been processed over the months after your initial FOIA request was submitted,” said Deborah Peters, a FOIA specialist for HHS, in an e-mail.

ACF officials were not available to comment on deadline for this column, but the list it provided may be incomplete.

UPDATE: After publication of this column, Texas provided documents to Youth Services Insider that show it has submitted its notice of intent to delay to ACF. YSI has asked ACF and its FOIA office to review the list it provided to see if any other states seeking delays were left off.

The Family First Act was passed in February of 2018, and will enable states to use the Title IV-E entitlement – previously reserved for foster care and adoption support – to fund services aimed at working with parents without the need for a family separation. Those services must be evidence-based and apply to three areas: parenting, substance abuse treatment and mental health interventions.

At the same time, the law restricts federal funds for the placement of foster youth in group homes and other “congregate care” options. States will only be able to draw funds for such placements for two weeks, with exceptions for programs that serve some niche populations and for accredited providers using trauma-informed, clinical models. Even in those cases, a judge will need to periodically approve the need for continued use of a congregate care facility.

Family First’s front-end services are limited to substance abuse, mental health and parenting interventions. And it is further restricted to models of services that are deemed to be promising practices or evidence-based interventions by the newly established clearinghouse.

States have the option to delay on the congregate care limitations until October 2021, but cannot use IV-E for the foster care prevention services until the delay ends. Here are the states that have alerted ACF to a planned delay:

One-year delay

  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Georgia

Two-year delay

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have also notified ACF of an intent to delay for two years, as have three Native American tribes: Chickasaw Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.

It is extremely likely that the number of states taking a delay will exceed this list. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has already posted an update on its website noting that based on its analysis of the law, “Texas will delay implementation of certain provisions” of the Family First Act, including the congregate care restrictions.

In Montana, which has the second highest foster care removal rate in the country behind West Virginia, child welfare director Sheila Hogan noted a likely delay until 2021 back in February. Louisiana has also said it expects to delay until 2021.

The most notable absence from this list is California, which without question had the most vocal constituencies pushing back against Family First before its passage. The state has a large federal waiver to spend its IV-E money more flexibly in several large counties, and has said that a shift from that arrangement to Family First would cost the state $320 million. Its largest county system, Los Angeles, is currently leading an effort to pass a federal law extending IV-E waivers for another two years.

Thus far, 17 states have notified the Department of Health and Human Services that they plan to seek a delay in implementing the major provisions of the Family First Act. Source: HHS.

The California Department of Social Services (DSS) confirmed to YSI that indeed, the state has not yet decided to seek a delay on implementation. The state would need conforming legislation to create a Family First Act state plan, according to DSS – since that legislation has not been passed, a delay for the state is very likely.

Ohio, which also has a large federal IV-E waiver and has helped Los Angeles push the waiver extension bill, has also not submitted an intent to delay.

As mentioned, there are estimates out there that suggest as many as three dozen states will delay at least a year on implementing the law.

That wouldn’t really be a surprise: guidance on the law has come out slower than was expected, and the clearinghouse still has not announced an approved list of services that states could use the new IV-E prevention funds for. Without some lead time on what new funding opportunities will be available on the front-end, it’s hard to blame states for voluntarily limiting their ability to fund their ongoing congregate care services.

Still, it is noteworthy that at least as of now, less than 20 states have formally notified ACF of their plan to delay.

Note: This story was updated on May 15,2019.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1213 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.