The layers of the child welfare sector are complicated and often difficult to navigate. This article is one of a series of occasional posts that takes an in-depth look at a particular aspect of the child welfare sector, and what it means to individuals and organizations focused on reform.
There are many pieces of federal legislation that shape the ways in which child welfare agencies at the state and county levels provide services. For decades, the majority of federal dollars were only available to agencies once children had already been removed from their home and placed into foster care. Such restrictive allocation of funds has meant that even though many child welfare agencies have wanted to put more of their efforts into prevention and family strengthening services, the funding to do so has been limited.
Additionally, the number of children in foster care had been steadily rising since 2012, while research continually showed children have better outcomes when remaining with their families. Being able to offer children and families services before they reached a crisis point could change the way child welfare organizations operated, and in 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).
The FFPSA reforms child welfare funding streams, and offers a major opportunity for jurisdictions to rethink how they approach services for families and children. Instead of focusing only on supporting children once they’ve entered foster care, the FFPSA aims to fund services that will prevent children from entering care.
Under the FFPSA, the federal government incentivizes states to reduce the number of children placed in group homes and other “congregate care” facilities. Additionally, the federal government will reimburse agencies for evidence-based, approved mental health services, treatment for substance use, and in-home parenting training. The FFPSA also extends services to young adults aging out of foster care, extending support to age 23, where services previously ended at age 21.
There are a number of other reforms, including funds for federally designated “evidence-based” programs that support kinship caregivers, and additional financing for successful family reunification programs. The Children’s Defense Fund has a list of other major aspects of the FFPSA.
While these sweeping reforms have the potential to be transformative for the child welfare sector, implementing such massive changes can be daunting.
Since 2019, many of Foster America’s fellows have been working across the country on various aspects of FFPSA planning. From Puerto Rico to Minnesota, fellows brought their strategic planning, design and project management skills to help leaders at all levels of government create their FFPSA strategic plans.
Fellows also ensured that these processes included community input, that prevention programs were culturally competent and designed to reduce disparities in out-of-home placements among Black and Indigenous families.
Fully implementing the FFPSA will continue to take place over the coming years. Although change at the federal level is often slow, increased federal funding for prevention-oriented services is one tool that will allow the child welfare sector to continue to move in a more supportive direction toward family wellbeing.