Arnold Ventures to Fund Family First Studies

Arnold Ventures, formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is actively seeking applications to fund  evaluations of child welfare-related services, with an emphasis on programs that could be funded under the Family First Prevention Services Act.

“We are very interested in more proposals in this area,” said Jon Baron, Vice President of Evidence-Based Policy. “We are especially interested in programs that could be funded through Family First because the law provides a potential pathway to scale.”

Family First provides matching funds to states for services that prevent child maltreatment and meet its evidence requirements. The law established the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse to rate eligible programs. The clearinghouse has reviewed a dozen programs so far, with half receiving its highest evidence rating. Another 16 reviews are in the pipeline for release in the coming months.

The clearinghouse has been criticized for the slow pace of its approvals, but the primary barrier is a shortage of evidence-based programs. Of the 482 interventions catalogued by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, which has similar evidence standards, just 35 meet its criteria for being well supported by research.

Congress anticipated this shortfall when it enacted Family First. Under the law, states will not be able to access federal matching funds for evidence-based prevention programs until they have submitted and received approval of a five-year prevention plan. These plans must include evaluations for any services that do not meet the law’s highest evidence standard.

The Children’s Bureau announced in October that it will cover half the cost of these evaluations, but the remaining expense may be a barrier for some states. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction that has received federal approval of its plan so far, but at least eleven states are working their way through the process. It is not clear how they are handling the cost of evaluations.

Baron said that Arnold Ventures would be willing to help cover these expenses if the studies are sufficiently rigorous. “We have funded randomized controlled trials that are also partly funded by the federal government,” he said, citing previous projects in K-12 education. “We could do so in child welfare.” Continue reading

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Current Arnold-Funded Child Welfare Projects

What kinds of projects have drawn funding from Arnold so far? Here are details on five that are child welfare-related.

Child First Replication Study ($2,499,968): This is a replication of a previous study of Child First, a home visiting program for families with young children at high risk of child maltreatment. The previous study was a well-conducted randomized controlled trial that indicated it still reduced family involvement with child protective services by 33 percent a full three years after the intervention. The study also showed a significant decrease in child behavioral health problems, among other impacts. The new study will examine the program’s impact after it has been replicated across twelve different sites in Connecticut and North Carolina.

Educational Liaison (EL) Program for High School Students in Foster Care ($498,908): This is a study of a dropout prevention program for middle and secondary school students in the foster care system. The intervention is based on Check and Connect, an intervention that has been shown to improve school attendance and graduation rates in two prior well-conducted RCTs. The new study will examine the program’s impact on participation in alternate graduation path (AGP) programs, which will serve as a proxy for school dropouts. It will also examine other outcomes such as credit hours earned, attendance, academic achievement based on state test scores, disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and expulsions.

Fostering Healthy Futures for Teens ($548,455): This study is of an adaptation of Fostering Healthy Futures, a mentoring program for preadolescent maltreated children (ages 9-11) in foster care. A previous study of the original intervention indicated that it improved mental health symptoms (including trauma symptoms), reduced mental health treatment, and reduced placements in residential treatment centers. The tested intervention is similar to the original program, but adapted for teenagers (8th and 9th graders) with open child welfare cases. The Arnold-funded study will examine impacts on youth delinquent behavior over 15 months.

Fostering Opportunities Program ($266,033): This is a study of a dropout prevention program for 7th-10th grade youth in foster care. The intervention uses a youth advocate to reduce or prevent school transfers, which contribute to lower graduation rates. The program was funded by a pay-for-success initiative launched by the Colorado governor’s office and was piloted in the same Colorado school district where the current study is taking place. The study will examine its impacts on school attendance and course completion.

Rapid Responders for Runaway Youth ($387,093): This study is of a rapid response case management program intended to refer runaway youth and their caregivers to evidence-based services. Rapid responders will meet youth and their families within 72 hours of the runaway incident. Referrals will be to evidence-based programs like Multi-systemic Therapy and Functional Family Therapy, both of which have been rated as “well-supported” by the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse. One goal of the intervention is to raise referrals to evidence-based services from approximately 10 percent to at least 50 percent. The project was funded through a state pay-for-success project managed by the Colorado governor’s office. The study will measure impacts on criminal charges and out-of-home placements.


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Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act

New report from the Children’s Defense Fund:

Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act

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Roll Out Begins for Family First Evidence Provisions

At least 13 states have indicated that they will implement the evidence provisions of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) starting October 1. Under the law, states can now use federal IV-E entitlement money for evidence-based preventive mental health, substance abuse, and in-home parenting programs for children at risk of entering the child welfare system.

According to a survey by the Chronicle of Social Change, the initial states will include: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Each of these states, plus the District of Columbia, is expected to submit the necessary paperwork to the Children’s Bureau to obtain federal funding. Three states (Arkansas, Kentucky, and Utah) and DC have reportedly already submitted their plans to the Children’s Bureau for review.

The Children’s Bureau must approve amended state plans before they are eligible for federal matching funds, but at least one state (Kansas) has already announced $13.5 million in new grants. The Kansas funding was allocated by the state legislature earlier this year. The federal portion of those grants will presumably be covered once the state’s plan is approved by the Children’s Bureau.

Federal Implementation So Far

Since its enactment last year, the Children’s Bureau has undertaken a number of actions to implement the evidence provisions of the law, some in partnership with ACF’s evaluation arm, the Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation (OPRE). These have included:

  • On June 22, 2018, HHS published an initial Federal Register Notice (FRN; 83 FR 29122) requesting public comment on initial criteria and potential programs and services to be considered for a systematic evidence review.
  • In late September, 2018, OPRE announced a $5.2 million contract to Abt Associates to operate the Prevention Services Clearinghouse, which has been tasked with reviewing evidence for programs to determine if they qualify for funding under the law.
  • On November 30, 2018, the Children’s Bureau issued program instructions outlining related requirements for states. It also included an initial list of 10 programs and services that were expected to be reviewed to determine if they qualify as evidence-based under the law.
  • In April, 2019, OPRE published a technical handbook providing guidance to program developers on the law’s evidence requirements.
  • In June, the Prevention Services Clearinghouse completed the first of a dozen program evidence ratings.
  • On July 12, OPRE announced the Supporting Evidence Building in Child Welfare Project Evaluation Opportunity, which invited program developers to apply for evaluation assistance. This project is being operated under contract by the Urban Institute in partnership with Child Trends and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. The application deadline was August 30, 2019.
  • On July 19, the Children’s Bureau issued new program instructions providing information to states on transitionary funding for programs that have not yet been rated by the evidence clearinghouse.
  • On August 13, the Children’s Bureau released a general Evaluation Plan Tip Sheet, which states may use for designing their evaluations under Family First.
  • From August 20-21, the Children’s Bureau hosted the 2019 National Child Welfare Evaluation Summit in Washington, DC, the first conference of its kind in eight years. A list of speakers and related events is here. Materials from the event are here.

Congressional Fix to Ease Transition

More states are expected to take advantage of the Family First evidence provisions over the next two years. One roadblock is the law’s new restriction on funding for congregate care. Several states have elected to delay their implementation of Family First until they have the necessary policy changes in place. Some states have also been grappling with the expiration of federal child welfare waivers, which ended September 30.

Congress is currently considering legislation to ease the transition to Family First. Major provisions are expected to include:

  • $500 million to support state implementation;
  • additional payments to offset funding lost from the expiration of federal waivers; and
  • a delay in the requirement that 50 percent of funds be spent on services that meet the law’s highest (well-supported) evidence standard.

It appears likely that the legislation will be adopted before the end of the year, with the provisions retroactive to October 1.


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New Child Welfare Evidence Blog / Email List

The Social Innovation Research Center is happy to announce the launch of a new blog focused on evidence issues in child welfare.

The Child Welfare Evidence & Innovation Blog, a project of the Ahlquist Center for Policy, Practice & Innovation at Children’s Home & Aid, will focus on evidence-based policy and the Family First Prevention Services Act. To stay up to date on new articles and resources, consider subscribing to the associated email list by sending an email to:

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Evidence-based Child Welfare Legislation Enacted

Evidence-based child welfare prevention programs will receive funding under a new law that was included in a large funding bill that Congress passed in the early morning hours of February 9.

The legislation, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, will fund evidence-based preventive mental health, substance abuse, and in-home parenting programs for children at risk of entering the child welfare system. Starting October 1, 2019, the legislation will allow Title IV-E entitlement money to be used for these services for up to 12 months. (See the relevant provisions of the bill or the full bill text for details.)

The Family First legislation was nearly enacted in late 2016, but pulled at the last moment after objections by Sen. Richard Burr. Several states had also objected to the bill’s funding of congregate care.

A report released by RAND last year suggested that prevention programs like those funded by the bill could achieve better child outcomes and save money.

What Counts As Evidence-Based?

To qualify for federal funding, the services must be trauma-informed and meet the legislation’s standards for programs that are promising, supported, or well-supported by evidence. At least half of the federal share of this funding must be spent on services that meet the highest (well-supported) evidence standard.

The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to issue guidance on the provisions later this year — by October 1, 2018 — a year before they become effective. The guidance must also include a pre-approved list of services that satisfy the bill’s evidence requirements. After that, HHS is directed to update the list as often as it deems necessary. The bill also authorizes the creation of a clearinghouse to rate the research on these services, either by the department or through a grant or contract.

Many of these programs have already been rated by clearinghouses such as the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Effective Prevention Programs (NREPP), although the latter clearinghouse has been frozen since last September. The new law’s evidence standards are reportedly very similar to those used by the California clearinghouse.

Several other resources are also available that could help child-serving agencies implement such evidence-based programs, including:


This post originally appeared on the Social Innovation Research Center blog.

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