Passage of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (Family First) is an opportune moment that offers new possibilities to better respond to the individual needs of children and families in Kentucky. Many state and local advocates, policymakers, public child welfare agencies, private providers, the legal community, and other stakeholders can work in partnership to effectively and efficiently implement the reforms.
Adopted on February 9, 2018, as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892 or Pub. L. 115-123), Family First follows a long tradition of federal legislation designed to ensure that children and teens grow up in a family. In passing the law, Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment, or strengthened parenting skills.
The new law updates child welfare policies and recognizes what research has made clear — that growing up in a family, not in residential or group settings, is essential for all kids, especially those who have experienced abuse or neglect.
Family First makes resources available to promote innovation and flexibility thanks to new federal reimbursement for prevention services. It offers an important opportunity to engage the entire community in planning for Family First implementation and gathering ideas on how preventive services and practice models can be added or improved. In addition to involving families, Family First provides an opportunity to engage existing and new stakeholders.
Public agencies can put families first by endorsing the idea that infants, children, and teens want, need, and deserve a family, that kids do best in families, and that families do best in strong, supportive communities. The new law’s name reflects its key components: a family first for children and teens with prevention services to keep kids safe and families together. Additionally, Family First funding for states is not dependent on the family’s income making the support accessible to all families who may need it.
Leadership of CHFS and DCBS has committed to Kentucky being among the first states to implement Family First beginning October 2019.
The Child Welfare Transformation that is undergoing currently in Kentucky reflects the vision of Family First with its three main goals:
- To safely reduce the number of children entering foster care;
- To improve the timeliness of appropriate permanency for a child, if the child is removed, whether that be reunification with the child’s parents, permanent kin placement, or through adoption; and,
- To reduce the caseloads of caseworkers to better serve families in need.