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.