The slightly re-named Family First Prevention Services Act, an overhaul of federal child welfare financing aimed at supporting more efforts to prevent foster care placements, will likely be introduced next week in both the House and Senate.
“At a time when an opioid epidemic is tearing families across the country apart, Congress is fighting to keep families together,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), in a statement released late on Friday.
The bill “provides bipartisan solutions for families and children affected by the opioid addiction crisis,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who developed the legislation with fellow Finance member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “The bill also aims to reduce the reliance on group homes for children by providing services that will keep families together.”
The legislation would, for the first time, enable states to use federal Title IV-E dollars to pay for time-limited services to help families with children who are at risk of entering foster care. Title IV-E is an entitlement program that currently can only be used to pay for foster care and adoption.
Under Family First, a state or county agency could use matched IV-E dollars for time-limited services for 12 months after identifying a child deemed at risk of being removed to foster care. States would be responsible for developing a federally approved plan for such services, and would eventually have to report on the impact of these services. State agencies would need to show results; by 2021, they will need to report how many children deemed at risk of foster care did not end up in foster care after these services were rendered.
Earlier iterations of the bill cast a wide net on what might be considered time-limited prevention services, including assistance with affordable and safe housing. The draft planned for next week includes just three areas: mental health, substance abuse treatment and “in-home parent skill-based programs.”
Family First would also reframe the use of Title IV-B money, a much smaller block of funds that go to states, to focus on the reunification of children in foster care. The bill would remove the 12-month time limit for reunification services, and then also allow for service continuation after the child has returned home.
As Hatch described, the bill stops federal funding for congregate care placements after the second week of a child’s placement into a congregate care setting, referred to in this bill as a “child care institution.”
There are three exceptions made to this rule:
- Qualified residential programs.
- A prenatal, post-partum or parenting support program.
- An independent living program for people who remain in foster care after age 18.
The definition of “qualified residential programs” is spelled out in seven sets of criteria within the legislation. They include credentials from one of several accreditation providers, use of a trauma-informed treatment model and the presence of licensed clinical and nursing staff on site during business hours.
The restrictions on congregate care spending are the main offset to spending increases caused by this legislation. The other offset is a two-and-a-half year delay in the federal government’s expansion of support for adoption assistance. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, passed in 2008, ended a rule that tied adoption assistance to certain income standards related to the parents of the adoptee.
Fostering Connections set a timeline that would have all adopted children eligible for adoption assistance by 2018. The Family First Prevention Services Act would delay the phasing in of that expanded coverage until at least 2020.
Legislators have also tacked on several key extensions and revisions of other federal child welfare programs to Family First. Among them:
- Extension of the adoption and guardianship incentives program, which rewards states for increasing the number of finalized adoptions and guardianships of foster youth.
- Extension of Promoting Safe and Stable Families, a major part of IV-B, at $345 million annually.
- Permission for states to increase the age range to 23 for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, a program that generally sends about $180 million to states to help youth who are transitioning from foster care into adulthood.
Click here to read a draft of the bill planned for next week.