Family First Act Clearinghouse Misses May Goal for First Slate of Approvals

With just months left until the law takes effect, the Family First Prevention Services Clearinghouse failed to meet its goal of a May release for the first list of approved foster care prevention services under the law.

The clearinghouse, which is overseen by Abt Associates through a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will govern what services states can tap into federal funding for in order to serve families where the children are at “imminent risk” of entering foster care.

The clearinghouse had circulated a timetable saying that “Release of the ratings of programs and services” would happen “Beginning May 2019.” While the goal of releasing the clearinghouse’s evaluation process did occur in May, there is still no list of approved services for which states can receive federal child welfare funding.

An inquiry from Youth Services Insider about the missed deadline to the clearinghouse’s general email inbox was replied to with an unsigned message:

We are aiming to launch the Clearinghouse website in spring 2019. Our goal has been, and remains, to review and rate as many services and programs as quickly as possible to support states’ efforts to improve outcomes for children and families through implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Until the launch of the website, we will continue to provide updates to the field through the Child Welfare Information Gateway listservs and OPRE social media accounts.

The clearinghouse also informed YSI that “release of ratings will follow the same timeline as the website.”

The Family First Act was passed in February of 2018, and mostly takes effect in October of this year. It enables 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 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. But as days tick off the calendar with no information about what front-end services will be allowed under Family First, YSI would imagine it becomes harder for state agencies to justify self-limiting their access to congregate care funds so they can pursue an unknown, prevention-oriented commodity.

The number of states that have already notified HHS of a plan to delay is at 27, but is expected to be higher than that by October.

The clearinghouse did announce its first list of programs under consideration in December, and it is pretty likely that many, if not all, of them will end up being approved. Here is the list of the first candidates:

Mental Health

  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
  • Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Multi-Systemic Therapy
  • Functional Family Therapy

Substance Abuse

  • Methadone Maintenance Therapy
  • Families Facing the Future
  • Motivational Interviewing

In-Home Parenting

  • Nurse-Family Partnership
  • Health Families America
  • Parents As Teachers

The clearinghouse is also reviewing two models of kinship navigator programs, which help connect relative caregivers with access to benefits, resources and supports. They are the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, and Florida’s Kinship Interdisciplinary Navigation Technologically-Advanced Model.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.