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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