What is the Family First Act?
In February 2018 The Family First and Prevention Services Act was passed by congress (in the other Washington) and became law. It represents the biggest change to federal government policy on child welfare since the 1930s. What does it aim to accomplish and how will it work in Washington? We’re so glad you asked.
What does it do?
Family First is 108 pages long, but it boils down into three basic changes.
IV-E money can be used for prevention
This is why many in child welfare are so excited about Family First. Today, money from the federal government is used by states to carry out foster care. This funding stream is called “Title IV-E” after the section of the Social Security Act that created it. Family First says that states can use that money not just to do foster care but to prevent kids from coming into foster care by providing services to their parents. Things like drug/alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, and parent coaching. Having federal funding for these things should help make them more widely available and prevent many children from coming into foster care in the first place.
Group homes are harder to fund using IV-E money
Family First also sets parameters for what kind of group care facilities can be funded using IV-E money. Specifically, only group care facilities that are short-term (less than 2 week stays) or accredited. That means group care facilities who were not already accredited have been scrambling to achieve that before the law goes into effect.
A lot of other random changes
The two changes mentioned above are the meat of the bill. But in true DC fashion, a lot of other things were thrown in too. The Chronicle of Social Change has a great list of all the “other stuff” included in Family First.
How will it work here in WA?
Many people believe that Family First is an attempt to move money from group care to prevention. Since it doesn’t include any new money and only changes the terms by which existing funds can be spent, that reading rings true. It does seem like the law was written for and about places where there is an abundance of inferior group care facilities, and that just isn’t the case in Washington.
Washington ranks 49th out of 50 states for our usage of group care facilities, and that’s good! It means kids are in families instead of being in institutions. But it also means there isn’t much money to move around. If this is a question of diverting money from group care into prevention, Washington won’t have much room to maneuver.
And what about Skookum?
Since kids always spend less than 2 weeks at Skookum House (usually 5 days), we won’t have to be accredited. Like many issues in child welfare, we don’t see this having a direct impact on Skookum right away. But since it affects kids, we are watching it closely.