“This is a tremendous time in child welfare,” said Diane Moore, Utah’s director of Child and Family Services, in a statement announcing the plan’s approval. “The principles of the Family First Act reflect the priority of family that our community already has. This strategic alignment of federal dollars with Utah’s values will enhance our work to support the children and families we serve.”
The state’s former senator, Orrin Hatch (R), was a co-author of the bill, which was signed into law in 2018 as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act. The Family First Act allows states to use the Title IV-E entitlement, previously reserved for foster care and adoption costs, to try to avoid the use of foster care in some child welfare cases.
The law also limits federal funding for congregate care, meaning group homes and institutions, which was an issue that former Sen. Hatch was passionate about. States can only get federal dollars for those congregate care placements for two weeks, although the law carves out some notable exceptions for pregnant or parenting teens, older youth in extended care, victims of sex trafficking and accredited residential treatment settings.
Utah currently has about 2,400 children in foster care, and DHS Executive Director Ann Silverberg Willamson said in a press release that substance abuse is a leading factor in the state’s foster care cases. Through evidence-based programs, the state will provide more support for those families struggling with substance abuse that puts them at risk of losing their children to foster care.
In order to be cleared for the foster care prevention funding, states must submit a five-year “IV-E Prevention Plan” that includes which evidence-based services it plans to use. Currently, most of the evidence-based programs included in Utah’s plan are not available in the state, and DHS is working on training and certification to provide those services.
Utah’s plan comes on the heels of the late-October approval of the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Service Agency’s plan.
In addition to D.C. and Utah, the other systems that plan to implement Family First in 2019 are Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Five of those states have submitted plans for review already: Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and Maryland.
States were permitted to delay the congregate care limitations in Family First until 2021, but forfeit the ability to draw in foster care prevention funds during that time frame. Seven states have notified the U.S. Children’s Bureau of plans to delay on Family First until 2020, and an additional 32 states plan to delay until 2021.