(February 16, 2018)—On February 9, 2018 the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892) passed the Senate and the House and was signed into law. Despite including large increases in non-defense appropriations, this funding still falls short of where it was eight years ago and further highlights the degree to which this part of the budget has been reduced in recent years. The bill does, however, include funding for several programs important for children and families including extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for four more years (on top of the six year reauthorization that occurred earlier this year), reauthorizing the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program for five years, increasing funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant by $5.8 billion over the next two years and signing into law the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), a bipartisan effort that marks an important move toward child welfare finance reform.
A primary objective of FFPSA is to keep children in their homes whenever safe and possible by allowing states to claim federal title IV-E reimbursement for prevention programs and services to support eligible children, youth and their families. This marks a significant policy shift and finally brings child welfare financing into alignment with what research tells us is best for children and families. Services and programs that will be newly eligible for federal title IV-E reimbursement include mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services and in-home parent skill-based programs that include parenting skills training, parent education and individual and family counseling. While there are 12 month time-limits on how long a state can claim reimbursement for a family’s involvement in a prevention service, states will be able to receive reimbursement for these strategies regardless of a family’s income – also a significant change. These changes come with a heightened focus on the quality of services provided to families. States will only be able to claim reimbursement for services that meet the definitions of well-supported, supported and promising practice. This has the potential to provide a compelling incentive to invest in innovation in order to build evidence for services and programs that improve child and family safety and well-being.
In addition to restructuring federal financing to support keeping families together whenever safely possible, FFPSA also includes many provisions to support children who are currently in foster care – once again, aligning financing strategies with the best available research about what works to support positive child and family well-being outcomes. Specifically, this includes:
- A focus on reducing placements in congregate care, including group homes and shelters, for children who are placed in foster care. Many states currently struggle with placing children in family foster homes and FFPSA not only incentivizes states to place children in family foster homes, including with kin, but also provides states with grant opportunities to increase their family foster home recruitment strategies.
- Support for pregnant and parenting youth in foster care. FFPSA includes pregnant and parenting foster youth as candidates who are eligible for prevention services – specifically those noted above – without their child having to enter the foster care system.
- An extension of supports for older youth aging out of foster care. FFPSA includes an extension of aftercare services for youth to age 23 in states where there is extended foster care to age 21 and the ability for youth to access Educational Training Vouchers to pursue secondary education until age 26.
Passage of FFPSA was a first, important step toward restructuring the ways in which child welfare agencies engage with children and families. Now there must be a commitment to ensuring effective implementation of these provisions – with particular attention to ensuring the children and families who often face disparate outcomes in these systems are effectively served. CSSP is committed to supporting this effort by providing guidance and resources to policymakers, administrators, advocates, families and our partners to ensure that FFPSA can positively and equitably impact the experiences and outcomes of children. FFPSA is a significant change in policy – and has the potential to better support children in their homes, with their families. It is movement in the direction of improved child well-being.