Note: This is a guest post from Natalie Bielenberg, Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare Intern.
On February 9, 2018, the Trump Administration signed into law the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), with a number of significant changes made to the Act.
- The FFPSA gave states the flexibility to use federal Title IV-E funds to improve prevention through upfront, evidence-based services in areas of mental health, substance abuse prevention, and other in-home programs to help parents with the skills needed to prevent their children from entering foster care. Before the FFPSA, this funding was generally only available once a child was already placed in the foster care system.
- The FFPSA allows for funding for specific short-term services to kinship caregivers (those family members or friends who are caring for a relative child who cannot be with their biological parents). The law also supports young people in foster care who themselves are pregnant or parenting.
- The FFPSA requires more strict oversight of when foster care maintenance payments can be made to congregate care facilities like group homes. For example, assessments must be completed to ensure youth are not inappropriately placed in congregate care for extended periods of time. This law also comes with federal oversight protections that aim to ensure that states do not shift children from congregate care to the juvenile justice system.
Preventing children from entering the foster care system is a crucial aspect of the FFPSA. Prevention is important because children thrive on routines and stable home environments. Therefore, any major disruption in a child’s life, even one intended to ensure the child’s safety, can be traumatic and have lasting negative physical and mental health repercussions. The foster care system itself can bring additional traumas to a child’s life.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has become an early adopter of the FFPSA. Its five year prevention program plan includes the implementation of an array of evidence-based prevention services designed to empower families at-risk of entering the child welfare system. The services include
- in-home, skills-based training for parents;
- mental health care, including family therapy; and
- substance abuse treatment programs.
At a press conference Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska DHHS, said that “Family First appropriately puts the focus on empowering and strengthening families to prevent the need for involvement in the child welfare system.”
While we are excited for the changes that this law could bring, there are questions left to be answered as implementation begins to ensure families are supported. Nebraska Appleseed will be closely monitoring Nebraska’s implementation in the months ahead.