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Work Continues to Implement Family First Prevention Services Act

The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), enacted earlier this year as part of an overall spending package, makes major changes to federal funding for foster care, and presents both challenges and opportunities for Virginia as it works to implement the law in advance of the effective date of most of its provisions (October 1, 2019). Child welfare experts have stressed that FFPSA is a watershed moment in the field, in that it presents an opportunity to restructure the system to help intervene with families before a child must be removed from the home.

VACo reported on FFPSA in County Connections earlier this year, and has been working with the state to prepare to implement the new law.

Major elements of FFPSA include:

  • Federal foster care funding (provided through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act) may be used for prevention services for the first time. Historically, IV-E funding was only allowed to be used for maintenance payments (for expenses such as food, clothing, and school supplies) for children who had been removed from their homes. Prevention services are allowed to be funded without regard to income, although the existing income requirements remain for maintenance funding.
  • Prevention services may be provided for up to 12 months for services such as mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and in-home parenting skills programs. Funding may be provided for children who are at imminent risk of entering foster care, but can remain safely at home or in kinship care.
  • Prevention services funded through FFPSA must be evidence-based and classified as “promising,” “supported,” or “well-supported,” based on a clearinghouse that is expected to be released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by the end of 2018. At least 50 percent of the expenditures reimbursed through FFPSA must be spent on “well-supported” practices beginning in FY 2020.
  • The state will be subject to a maintenance of effort requirement based on 2014 spending on services for candidates for foster care. States are responsible for determining this spending level.
  • FFPSA limits the use of IV-E maintenance payments for congregate care (after a two-week grace period) to certain specialized placements or “Qualified Residential Treatment Programs,” which must meet certain standards set forth in FFPSA, including accreditation by certain organizations.

Virginia is using a “Three Branch” approach to implementing FFPSA, a structure that allows for participation by the legislative, executive, and judicial branches and has been used successfully in past efforts to improve the child welfare system in Virginia. The team has broken into several work groups. Major issues under discussion include:

  • How to calculate Virginia’s maintenance of effort level
  • Defining the population that will be eligible for prevention services by being at “imminent risk” of entering foster care
  • Determining providers’ ability to meet the requirements of the new law, either by being prepared to offer evidence-based practices for prevention services (which often require particular training, credentialing, or licensure for staff) or to meet the requirements of a “Qualified Residential Treatment Program” for group homes or residential placements. The Department of Juvenile Justice recently worked with providers to build capacity to offer two evidence-based practices for family therapy in most localities in Virginia, which involved assisting providers with “seed money” to ensure that providers were in compliance with the stipulations of the therapeutic models.
  • Determining what resources are needed at the state and local level for implementation, to include technical support and training resources for localities.

The Three Branch team is working toward an expected implementation date of October 2019, although the law allows for states to request a two-year delay. The delay would apply to the limitations on the use of IV-E funding for congregate care, but would also delay the state’s ability to use IV-E funding for prevention services.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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