August 21, 2018

ABA urges that FFPSA Clearinghouse highlight legal-assistance role

The ABA and its Center on Children and the Law recommended July 20 that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) include programs that incorporate legal assistance to help prevent children from entering foster care as part of its Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) Clearinghouse.

The FFPSA, enacted in 2018 as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, reforms the federal child welfare financing system to provide services to families who are at risk of entering the child welfare system. The Clearinghouse, established as part of the FFPSA, will include a list of evidence-based programs and service delivery models that are rated as “promising,” “supported,” or “well-supported” for substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, in-home parent skill-based programs, and kinship navigator programs appropriate for children who are candidates for foster care, those who are pregnant, individuals who are parenting foster youth, and the parents of kin caregivers of those children and youth.

“Families whose risk of child welfare involvement increases because of mental health, substance abuse, and parenting challenges often also have unmet legal needs,” ABA Governmental Affairs Principal Deputy Director Holly O’Grady Cook wrote in comments submitted to Naomi Goldstein, deputy assistant secretary for planning, research and evaluation in the HHS Administration for Children and Families.

Cook pointed out that medical-legal partnerships, which leverage skills from both health care providers and attorneys, identify and address simultaneous legal and medical pressures on families. These efforts may help the families gain access to benefits and educational services for which a child may be eligible and help families procure insurance benefits for needed medical care for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Another successful approach features multidisciplinary legal teams that include an attorney, a social worker, and a peer advocate to work together to reduce the need for foster care by keeping children safely with birth parents or by supporting kin caregivers. The lawyer’s role on the team addresses unmet legal needs revolving around issues that include guardianship, custody, housing, paternity, public benefits, domestic violence, and power of attorney.

Other potential program priority areas for the Clearinghouse, Cook wrote, include services to populations with co-occurring needs in the areas of domestic violence, housing and disabilities. Such services include assistance by recovery coaches who can integrate support for parents whose children entered child welfare due to substance abuse as well as domestic violence and mental health needs.

The problems of maintaining access to safe and secure housing that stem from substance abuse may be addressed by model programs such as the Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women that is operated through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

To support parents and children with disabilities, the ABA recommends that the Clearinghouse include program evaluations that provide in-home services encompassing respite care for parents who care for children with disabilities or other special needs.