United States Child Welfare System Redesign
Strategic Action Plan
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1.6 Family First Act and Redesigned CWS
Family First: Federal Child Welfare Law
By Nina Williams-Mbengue | Vol . 27, No. 24 | July 2019
Did You Know?
- The 442,995 children and youth in foster care nationwide in federal fiscal year 2017 is the highest number since 2008.
- Babies under age 1 make up the highest percentage, by age group, of children entering foster care.
- From 1999 to 2014, the incidence of parental alcohol or other drug use as a reason for child removal more than doubled.
After a significant decline in foster care caseloads over the past two decades, child maltreatment rates and foster care caseloads have begun to rise again. In 2017, child protective services agencies across the U.S. screened 2.4 million reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Of that number, 674,000 children and youth were confirmed as victims of maltreatment. Most of the children were victims of neglect, and many were removed from their homes. Data now indicate that the increase is largely due to the substance abuse and opioid crises: 36% of children entering care in 2017 were removed because of parental substance abuse.
In response, Congress enacted the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First) as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, signed into law by President Trump in 2018. This landmark legislation offers states an unprecedented opportunity to transform state child welfare systems by providing substance abuse, mental health and other prevention and treatment services to prevent children’s entry into foster care. The law also seeks to reduce states’ reliance on group and residential treatment homes and instead prioritize family-based care.
Before the passage of Family First, states could use federal Title IV-E funds (the primary source of federal funding for foster care) for children only after they entered foster care. As of Oct. 1, 2019, states will have the option to claim federal reimbursement for approved prevention services designed to let “candidates for foster care” stay with their parents or kin caregivers. These include evidence-based in-home parenting training, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Pregnant and parenting youth in foster care and their parents and kin caregivers also are eligible for prevention services. To qualify for reimbursement, prevention programs must meet certain criteria to determine whether they are promising, supported or well supported by evidence of effectiveness. The Title IV-E Prevention Services (Family First) Clearinghouse released the first set of approved prevention programs eligible for reimbursement. [See list in Section 1.2 New In-Home Services.]
States also can be reimbursed for costs related to a child’s stay in their parent’s residential treatment program, and for evidence-based kinship navigator programs, which provide caregivers with information, education, and referrals to services and support.
To reduce states’ use of congregate or residential group care, the federal government will now only reimburse programs that are designated as qualified residential treatment programs (QRTPs). These must be licensed and accredited and use a treatment model that recognizes the effect trauma has on youth. They are also required to have registered or licensed nursing staff available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and must engage families and support them after discharge. Children must be assessed regularly to determine their need for residential care. Benefit to the child must be regularly demonstrated and approved by the courts. States may delay the implementation of this part of the legislation for two years (until Sept. 29, 2021)—however, this will delay funding for prevention services.
Other services in which children and youth can be placed include programs for pregnant and parenting foster youth, supervised independent living programs for children older than 18, and programs for youth that are victims of, or at risk of, human trafficking.
Family First also allows states to extend John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program funds to youth up to age 23 if the state has extended federal Title IV-E funds to children up to that age. States may also extend education and training vouchers to youth up to age 26.
Redesigned Child Welfare System
Recommendations for the Redesigned Child Welfare System are greatly aligned with the intent of the Family First Act. The Redefined Child Welfare System:
- Removes socioeconomic status and parental drug/alcohol abuse from reasons why a child is removed from the home, providing services to the family while ensuing the child remains safe at home
- Reduces the number of children removed from the home to only those children who are severely abused or neglected, for which a Therapeutic Respite Care Home is needed
- “Institutions” have no place as housing for children in the Redesigned Child Welfare System
- As recommended in the Family First Act, the Therapeutic Respite Care Homes “use a treatment model that recognizes the effect trauma has on youth” and provides nurturers who help the child through the trauma before it becomes an integral part of their mental state and worldview
- “Programs for pregnant and parenting foster youth, supervised independent living programs for children older than 18, and programs for youth that are victims of, or at risk of, human trafficking” are also part of the Redesigned Child Welfare System
To submit questions or comments, please email Jo@Jo-Calk.com. I welcome all input, ideas, and suggestions. Thank you for caring for children.