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The Family First Prevention Services Act and the Impact on Kentucky Kids

By |2019-03-06T11:40:12+00:00March 6th, 2019|Blog, Child Welfare & Safety|

By Cortney Downs and Shannon Moody

While there are still some unknowns about how and when states will implement the new federal legislation known as the Family First Prevention Services Act, it is clear that Kentucky is ready to be one of the first. Commissioner Eric Clark of the Department for Community Based Services has testified on their intent to be ready for implementation by October of 2019. And with House Bill 158, sponsored by Representative David Meade, working its way through the Kentucky legislature, the commonwealth is taking its first steps in aligning state law with the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Knowing Kentucky is hoping to lead the charge in adopting this federal act sooner rather than later, we feel it is important to clarify what is known about Family First Act implementation and how we anticipate it will impact Kentucky’s kids.

Provide funding for prevention activities.

What does this mean?

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) is federal legislation that aims to reduce the number of children being placed in the foster care system by providing funding for prevention and preservation services, including substance abuse and mental and behavioral health services for families and children in an effort to reduce out-of-home placements. Services are available to any child who is deemed eligible for foster care and who can safely stay home or in a kinship placement, any child in foster care who is pregnant or parenting, and any parent or kinship caregiver who requires services to keep their child from entering foster care.

Why is it good for Kentucky’s kids?

Increased access to substance use treatment, mental health care, and in-home parenting skills training is crucial for addressing the most common risk factors for abuse and neglect and ensuring that children can remain safely in their homes. While it is still unknown how this will be implemented in Kentucky, programs like START appear to fit the criteria that are already in place in Kentucky to help parents struggling with substance abuse maintain a strong relationship with their children while working on recovery.

Implement plans to prevent child abuse and neglect fatalities.

What does this mean?

States will be required to maintain data on child abuse deaths and any actions being taken to prevent such fatalities in the future.

Why is it good for Kentucky’s kids?

One child fatality as a result of abuse or neglect is one too many. The great news is that Kentucky has already taken several steps to review child abuse deaths with a panel of experts from many different disciplines. The External Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel creates a report every year with a review of the deaths and near deaths of children related to child abuse and neglect.

Better access to family reunification services with federal reimbursement.

What does this mean?

Time limits on reunification services will be eliminated for caretakers while their child is in foster care. Parents can utilize supports to ensure a successful transition for children to return to their families. These families will be able to access reunification services whenever they choose and will have continued access to them for 15-months after their child has returned home. These services are intended to educate families on what they can expect while their child is in foster care and during the reunification process, and how they can strengthen their family and create a safe environment for their child to return home to.

Why is it good for Kentucky’s kids?

Supportive services wrapped around families while children transition back home can ensure that both parents and children are better equipped to handle those transitions. Parenting is tough, especially when trauma has occurred in the home. Reunification services can help families heal while better preparing them for success. Kentucky already provides these services across the state through private agencies.

Increase efficiency and timeliness to stable placements across state lines.

What does this mean?

Grants of up to $5 million per year will be made available for states to implement an electronic interstate case processing system to improve administrative processes and expedite placing children in safe homes across state lines.

Why is it good for Kentucky’s kids?

It will reduce the amount of time that children spend in temporary, out-of-home care, while also ensuring that the appropriate agencies have access to records, background checks, and other information to make a safe, more stable placement. Kentucky is surrounded by 7 states, and we are home to two military bases, which means more Kentucky kids who have family, fictive kin, or foster parents outside of the state should get to a safe and stable family placement faster.

Provide supports for Kinship Navigator Programs.

What does this mean?

Family First provides funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them. These supports also require states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers. Many states waive some of the non-safety standards for relatives, like not requiring a separate bedroom for every child.

Why is it good for Kentucky’s kids?

Kentucky has an estimated 15,000 children placed by the Department for Community Based Services in the care of a relative due to abuse, neglect, or dependency. Kinship caregivers need access to information about available supports to ensure the children in their care have what they need to thrive. As of March 2019, Kentucky is in the process of developing an “array of services” for kinship caregivers to access. The Department for Community Based Services is also utilizing these funds to train their staff on the services available to relatives.

Improve licensing standards for foster care placements.

What does this mean?

To ensure children are safe when placed outside of their home, we must ensure the foster homes meet the standards of best practice. Beginning April 1, 2019, states will be required to report to the federal Department of the Health and Human Services (HHS) whether their licensing standards for foster care are in line with the those identified by the federal administration and meet best practice standards.

Why is it good for kids?

Child safety and stability are of utmost importance. Placing them in family foster homes that meet set standards should help to make that placement more stable and successful. It creates a system of accountability for foster parents and ensures that states will make every child’s safety, both in and out of their homes, a priority.

Take steps to ensure that placements outside of foster family homes are a necessity.

What does this mean?

Federal funding will be limited for any placements that are not licensed foster family homes. If a child is placed in a group home for more than two weeks, federal reimbursement funds will only be available if the facility is a qualified residential treatment program (QRTP). QRTPs must meet specific standards to ensure a youth is getting appropriate quality services including, specializing in providing prenatal, post-partum, or parenting supports for youth, a supervised setting for youth ages 18 and older who are living independently, and settings providing high-quality residential care and supportive services to children and youth who have been found to be, or are at risk of becoming, sex trafficking victims. Evaluations will be administered to ensure that youth are not placed in detention facilities when group or residential placement options are limited.

Why is it good for kids?

Research shows that children do best in families. A small percentage of children who have been abused or neglected need treatment in a residential facility in order to address their complex mental or behavioral health needs. However, residential treatment facilities must only be used as an intervention as long as clinically necessary and should prepare children to transition or return to a family setting as soon as possible. When youth stay in residential treatment facilities too long, or unnecessarily, their educational and well-being outcomes are poorer than children in family-based care. In Kentucky, we at times over-utilize residential care, simply because we do not have enough foster parents to bring children into their homes. To get current numbers of children in out-of-home care, see Division of Protection and Permanency Data here.

Ensure placements in residential programs are necessary. 

What does this mean?

Within the first 30 days of a child being placed in a qualified residential treatment program (QRTP), an assessment to determine the child’s strengths and needs shall be completed by a licensed clinician or other trained professional using age-appropriate, evidence-based assessment tools that have been approved by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The state will be required to provide documentation of the child’s case plan, the reason for placement outside of a foster home, and how placement in a QRTP is the least-restrictive option for the child and will help meet their mental and behavioral health needs. Within 60 days, a juvenile or family court judge shall review the child’s assessment, confirm the appropriateness of their placement, and demonstrate why continued placement in a QRTP is appropriate. Provisions will also be put in place to ensure that children are not in out-of-home placements because of inappropriate mental, physical, or behavioral health diagnoses.

Why is it good for kids?

It ensures that youth who are in residential placements are there based on their needs for the shortest amount of time necessary. Residential care, if used inappropriately, can lead to negative outcomes for the children placed there. This process ensures that those who are responsible for their placements are continuously monitoring and justifying the need for that placement.

Provide continuous support for recruiting and retaining foster families, extending child and family services programs, and improving independent living programs.

What does this mean?

Funding will be appropriated for grants to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality foster families, with an emphasis being placed on states with the highest percentages of children in non-family settings. This will also reauthorize federal child welfare services programs and establish funding reserves for monthly caseworker visits, regional partnership grants, and state courts. Additionally, states would be allowed to continue providing services to youth who have transitioned out of the system up to the age of 23 and expand the usage of education and training vouchers for youth who have transitioned out of the system up to the age of 26. Kentucky has chosen to do this by amending regulations to ensure this can happen. With those expansions, states would be required to submit an annual report to Congress detailing the outcomes of youth who have transitioned out of care or left foster care for a kinship placement or adoption.

Why is it good for kids?

It further ensures that children will be placed in the safest environments and with the highest quality of foster families. This will also start to address the negative outcomes youth who age out of care too often experience by expanding service availability past the age of 18 and holds states accountable to ensure changes in those outcomes are seen over time. Kentucky already provides services to youth in foster care until age 21, and are expanding access to age 23 for independent living services, and to age 26 for access to education and training vouchers.

Learn more about the federal Family First Prevention Services Act here. Track House Bill 158 as it progresses through the 2019 Kentucky legislative session on our bill tracker.

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