States are preparing for drastic child welfare reforms that aim to reduce the removal of kids from their homes. But some worry they will cost states and harm children.
States are preparing for drastic child welfare reforms that aim to reduce the removal of kids from their homes. But some worry they will cost states and harm children. In February, Congress made a bipartisan deal that avoided a government shutdown and raised spending limits for defense and non-defense programs. The deal’s immediate budget implications grabbed most of the headlines at the time, but tucked into the legislative package was the biggest change in almost 40 years in how child welfare is funded.
Months later, states and localities are still trying to figure out what the new Family First Prevention Services Act means for them and whether they have enough time to comply with it.
Under the new law, the federal government will offer unprecedented support for keeping families together. In the past, the federal government would only reimburse states for child welfare services that were delivered after children were removed from their homes. Starting in October 2019, states can also be reimbursed for services that keep children safely at home with their families.
For the first time, a pot of money formally known as Title IV-E funds will be available to states for targeting parents and caretakers of children being considered for foster care. The feds will reimburse states for up to 12 months of evidence-based programs aimed at keeping families together, which often include mental health services, substance abuse treatment and in-home parenting classes.
The shift toward early intervention and treatment is “something that states have wanted to see for a long time,” says Tracy Wareing Evans, executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, a group that includes child welfare administrators.
But there is at least one provision in Family First that some state officials have expressed concern about.
To pay for the new prevention services, Congress is trying to shift money away from group homes. Generally speaking, the federal government will stop reimbursing states for placing children in group homes for more than two weeks unless they are a “qualified residential treatment program” for children with mental health or behavioral needs. The law also places new requirements on these group homes, such as accreditation by an independent body and licensed…