The Family First Prevention Services Act, enacted last month as part of a two-year budget agreement, makes sweeping changes in child welfare laws in an effort to keep families together.
P.L. 115-123 (H.R. 1892), the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 signed by the president on Feb. 9, for the first time allows the use of federal child welfare funding under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for preventive services. The expanded use of these funds, which were available in the past only after a child entered foster care, will provide opportunities for children to remain in their homes or with kinship caregivers while receiving needed support and services.
The ABA and its Center on Children and the Law, which have consistently advocated for policies addressing key services and support for families involved in the child welfare system, support the new law. In correspondence to Capitol Hill during consideration of the legislation, the ABA pointed out that the lives of many children would be improved and that the legislation “will end fiscal incentives to place children in foster care and instead provide services that can keep children and families safety together.” To supplement that correspondence, then-ABA President Linda Klein issued a statement in support of this legislation in October 2016.
The provisions in P.L. 115-123 are similar to those included in bipartisan legislation considered during the 114th Congress. That legislation, which passed the House unanimously, stalled in the Senate. The provisions were then included in a major medical research and mental health bill, but were dropped after opposition surfaced from group homes in North Carolina. During the first session of the 115th Congress, the House passed several bills that included various provisions from the Family First Prevention Services package, but there was no action in the Senate on those bills.
Strong support for the Family First legislation from more than 100 organizations led to its inclusion in this year’s budget agreement. Specific provisions do the following:
●reauthorize the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act (PSSF) under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, which support programs that help stabilize families by providing immediate preventive services while children remain at home and by funding reunification services so that children can be safely returned home in a timely manner. In addition, the legislation would eliminate a 15-month time limit on providing reunification services under PSSF so that federally supported reunification efforts can continue in appropriate circumstances;
●identify model licensing standards for relative foster family homes;
●provide a 50 percent federal match for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that provide critical services and information to support kinship care providers;
●expand access to the John E. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure that youth in foster care have access to quality education and additional resources to successfully transition to adulthood; and
●reauthorize the Court Improvement Program through the year 2021 and amend CIP to include training to judges, attorneys, and other legal persons in child welfare cases with regards to placements that are not foster family homes.
The new law also is expected to help caseworkers deal more effectively with cases arising out of the opioid crisis. Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.), a cosponsor of Family First legislation in the Senate, said the law “will usher in the most significant improvements to the child welfare system in decades and provide real help to families to fight the opioid epidemic.” He added. “We owe our most vulnerable children the best chance to stay with their families when it’s safe to keep them at home and the highest standards of care to protect children who are already in foster care.”
In related action regarding CIP reauthorization, the ABA is urging Congress to enact the provisions of H.R. 4461 and S. 2173, legislation that would consolidate the three grants under the program and fund CIP for the next 10 years. Grants under CIP, which was first enacted in 1993 to improve the legal processes in the child welfare system, are the only direct child welfare-related federal funds that state courts receive.
In a Feb. 27 letter to House and Senate leaders, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said that while the ABA appreciates the four-year CIP reauthorization in the budget act, enactment of the COURTS Act would reduce program costs and resolve reauthorization issues for the next 10 years.