The continuing budget resolution enacted into law on February 9 contained significant changes to the way the child welfare system is funded. The Family First Act changes how Title IV-E funds can be used. Instead of solely being used for foster care and adoption assistance expenses, this money can now be used for 12 months of services aimed at helping families without the use of foster care (or with kinship care if needed). This allowance of funds shifts the federal focus to allow for services that could prevent children from entering foster care, when it is safe to keep them with their family. These funds will be released in fiscal year 2020 and will go toward evidence-based prevention measures, including substance abuse prevention and treatment, and toward in-home parenting skills services. Additionally, there had been no limit on how long IV-E could be used for congregate care, but now there will only be two weeks of federal support provided for congregate care. The hope from this change is that the preference will be for placing children in foster homes rather than in congregate or group homes. The Family First Act All also reauthorizes the three grants of the Court Improvement Program through 2021.
Another change is that the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, which connects professionals with new and expecting mothers to focus on strengthening their parenting skills, received a five-year extension at its current rate of $400 million per year. There was a real risk that this successful program would not be funded at all, so this unexpected funding was very welcome news for advocates.
Funds will also be aimed at children in foster family homes and other special settings. Children with special needs in qualified residential treatment programs will receive assessments and regular reviews to determine if their needs are still being met in that setting. While the funds will be made available in 2020, states have the right to delay these changes until 2022. They also have the flexibility to decide which safety services to provide and are able to determine their own process of ensuring children with special needs are receiving the appropriate services through qualified residential treatment programs.
New funding will be made available to relative caregivers through the evidence-based Kinship Navigator program, which connects relative caregivers with the support and services they may need to safely keep children with them. This also mandates that states document how their foster care licensing standards include relative caregivers. The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program will receive funds for family reunification services (unlimited for children in foster care and 15 months for children who have returned home). States will also now be required develop plans for the tracking and prevention of child maltreatment fatalities. Finally, a grant program will be created to identify high-quality foster families so that more children can be placed in foster homes.
Other existing services benefiting from this budget resolution are the Regional Partnership Grant program (to prevent maltreatment due to substance abuse), John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (for youth transitioning out of foster care), and measures to promote establishing permanent families for children in the system. Read a detailed summary of these additions and updates.
There is a staggered timeline for the implementation of these changes and services. Many updates will occur immediately and, by the end of this fiscal year, the Department of Health and Human Services will disseminate practice criteria for preventative services, as well as a list of preapproved services and programs, to aid states in their planning. At the start of fiscal year 2019, states will be eligible to receive IV-E reimbursements for up to one year for children who have been placed in a residential family-based treatment facility with their parent for substance abuse redressing. At this time, states can also claim a 50 percent reimbursement on evidence-based services used within the Kinship Navigator program. While states will financially start to recoup their expenses at this time, the onus will also be on them to implement more stringent tracking and monitoring of children and workers in facilities. The final implementation stage will be by the end of fiscal year 2027, when states will be required to participate in a digital interstate case-processing system to facilitate a transparent exchange of information to ease the placement of children outside of the home.