North Dakota Moves Toward Family First Act Implementation

North Dakota announced last week that it is prepared to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act, and is finalizing a plan for approval from the federal government.

Over the last 18 months, the state has undertaken a rigorous process to create rules and policy to support the implementation of the new law, including hosting a number of stakeholder events. Once submitted, its plan for approval will be reviewed by the Children’s Bureau, the federal agency that oversees child welfare funding.

“This is a huge milestone for our state and for the children and families we serve,” said Chris Jones, executive director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services (DHS), in a press release earlier this week. “I’m grateful for the many people who devoted hours and collaborative work towards implementation of this federal law. This is a true testament that our state places a high priority on keeping children safe and families strong.”

Family First was passed in 2018 and its two major provisions went into effect earlier this month. The law allows states to use Title IV-E funding, the federal child welfare entitlement, to provide services to help prevent the use of foster care. It also limits the use of federal IV-E funds for group homes and institutions, so-called “congregate care” settings.

North Dakota joins the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah, Nebraska and Kansas in being among the first states to implement the new law. Most states have elected to take a delay.

Kansas officials recently told The Chronicle of Social Change the state was moving forward with Family First-related grants to support foster care prevention services. North Dakota DHS plans to wait until their plan is approved before dispersing funds to providers.

The Chronicle has asked the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a full list of states that have submitted plans already, but has not yet received it.

DHS said it has moved forward with a new process for establishing clinical congregate care options. While Family First restricts federal funds for most group settings to two weeks, there is an exception for what the law calls Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP). These programs must offer a trauma-informed treatment model, involve family members in treatment plans and plan for a six-month window of support after discharge.

North Dakota has so far accredited six QRTP providers that have a combined capacity of 118 beds, according to a DHS spokesperson.

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Kim Phagan-Hansel
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