Nebraska Moving Toward Family First Act Contracts

Earlier this week, Nebraska Division of Children and Family Services issued two requests for qualifications (RFQs) for potential providers of services under the Family First Prevention Services Act. The RFQs asked for proposals on Evidence-Based In-Home Parenting Skills Services and Evidence-Based Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

“These three services are intended to address the three most commonly identified situations – parental substance abuse, mental health and a lack of parenting skills – that cause children to become involved in the child welfare system,” said Lee Rettig, public information officer for Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “The services identified under [Family First] are meant to provide prevention and support services to keep families together when it’s safe to do so.”

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 the three areas Nebraska focuses on in these solicitations: 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.

Nebraska leaders say this is something the state was already working toward before Family First passed last February.

“The provisions of the law align nicely with our focus on keeping children with their families, when it’s safe to do so,” said Matt Wallen, director of the Division of Children and Family Services, in a press release about the RFQs. “Keeping families together starts with prevention and prevention starts with supporting families.”

For several months, Nebraska child welfare officials have created workgroups that have allowed stakeholders and other external partners to collaborate on how best to implement Family First in the state. Some areas the workgroups have focused on include prevention services, foster care maintenance payments, kinship navigators and plans for child maltreatment deaths.

“We are working with external partners to look at what other states are doing in their efforts to implement FFPSA and evaluating whether provisions in other state’s plans would work for Nebraska,” Rettig said.

Family First takes effect in October, but states have been offered the chance to delay implementation for up to two years. The federal Department of Health and Human Services asked states to notify them of their plans last November; the agency has refused to share those responses with The Chronicle of Social Change.

The Nebraska contracts would begin by October 1 and run through June 30, 2021 and may be renewed for one additional year.

Proposals must be submitted by May 31, 2019.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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