List of States Seeking Family First Act Delay is Up to at Least 27

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

Updated information from the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF), obtained last week by Youth Services Insider, shows that the number of states intending to delay on the Family First Prevention Services Act is now at least 27 states.

YSI obtained an initial list of 17 states in mid-May, after multiple requests that began with a normal inquiry to ACF. After filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we were denied again. Then, 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 Health and Human Services’ (HHS) FOIA office, it appeared this list of 17 included all of the states that had notified ACF of a delay 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.

YSI sought clarification after officials from Texas – which was not on the first list we received – showed us the notice of delay it had sent to the feds.

ACF informed YSI last week that the first list had in fact only included the states that submitted delay notices by November 9, and provided a new list that is current through May 15. The new list includes 10 additional states that have notified ACF of a planned delay since November.

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 a 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 so far have submitted a plan to delay for either one or two years on the Family First Act:

Delay to October 2020

  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Pennsylvania

Delay to October 2021

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

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.

More states are likely to formally request a delay over the summer. YSI knows for sure two additional states – Maine and Montana – where officials have indicated a delay is likely.

Back in February, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan sent a letter to colleagues noting that the state was not ready.

The agency “is focused on ensuring a successful statewide implementation and has, like the majority of states, decided not to rush into implementation,” she said in the letter. “DPHHS will work closely with community stakeholders and providers as we anticipate implementation by October 2021 or earlier.”

In a recent e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change related to our annual research project on foster care capacity, Maine indicated it is keen to take advantage of Family First’s new funding but needs more time to prepare.

“Our new director, Dr. Todd Landry, just came onboard a few weeks ago and implementation of [Family First] is high on his priority list,” said John Feeney, chief operating officer of the Office of Child and Families. “We plan to work collaboratively with stakeholders throughout child welfare and children’s behavioral health to ensure we thoughtfully and methodically implement … in a manner that best benefits the children and families of Maine.”

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.

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.

That the list of delaying states has grown since November is not a huge 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.

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