1: What is the Family First Prevention Services Act?
A: The Family First Prevention Service Act is a bipartisan bill introduced in both the House (HR 5456 by Chairman Buchanan and Representative Levin) and the Senate (S.3065 by Chairman Hatch and Senator Wyden.). On June 21, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill by unanimous consent. The Senate is considering the Family First Preservation Service Act as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Provisions are components of legislation that describe the solutions to the issues addressed by the legislation. The Family First Prevention Services Act includes provisions that impact the foster care system by addressing the current issues foster youth and families are facing.
2: Were foster youth consulted in the development of the Family First Prevention Services Act?
A: Yes! For one year, leaders from FosterClub with personal experience in the foster care system have been working with members of Congress addressing current issues youth across the country are facing in the system. These efforts have manifested in draft proposal in the Senate that became the Family First Prevention Services Act in both the House and Senate.
Among the leaders are members from the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council, a group tasked with providing insight and education to federal policy makers regarding the needs of foster youth and the systemic strengths and weaknesses impacting youth and families involved with child welfare. Council members undergo extensive trainings in child welfare policy and have the unique honor and challenge of representing your needs and voices at the federal level.
3: What issues in foster care does the Family First Prevention Services Act address?
A: The Family First Prevention Services Act seeks to address the systemic issues in foster care that result in negative outcomes for youth in foster care. The countless conference calls, meetings, emails, and dialog with foster youth leaders in the development of the Family First Prevention Services Act have resulted in the following insights relating to the impact of child welfare policy on foster youth:
Foster youth enter the system for many reasons, but foster care isn’t necessary for all families involved with child welfare. Families don’t have enough options, such as prevention services, when in need.
The current system inadvertently supports long stays in foster care. Many foster youth remain in the system for over two years, when the system is meant to be a short-term solution for families in need.
Foster youth often experience unnecessary placements in congregate care facilities due to the lack of alternative options. Foster youth report very negative experiences in congregate care facilities, often including abuse and neglect.
The Family First Prevention Services Act addresses every issue foster youth brought to the table. Provisions in the Family First Prevention Services Act include:
Prevention services, in order to reduce the number of foster youth placed in foster care unnecessarily. Many foster youth shared their personal reflections on what it was like to enter foster care and alternative solutions that would have met the needs of their families. These alternative solutions include more supports before entering foster care, so that they could remain with their family instead of remain in the system.
Oversight and accountability so that any involvement in the foster care system and any decisions made about foster youth are revisited and authentically reflect the individual needs of each foster youth. Protections for foster youth exist within each level of child welfare policy, but these protections are null unless there is an accompanying provision to include oversight and accountability.
4: How does the Family First Prevention Services Act meet today’s needs of foster youth?
A: The experiences of foster youth are impacted by the way child welfare is financed. Right now, the federal government reimburses each state for the number of foster youth in that year. Limited funds are available to prevent children and youth from entering the foster care system.
For example, if a state served 100 foster youth in 2010, and the federal government reimburses states at a rate of $25,000 per foster youth per year, that state would be reimbursed $250,000 in order to pay for the foster care expenses (foster family recruitment, training, and payments, caseworker salaries, etc.). This is a very simplified example of the financial structure for child welfare, but it shows you that the funds are available for youth who are placed in foster care instead of for prevention services.
Prevention services could make a huge difference for families involved with child welfare, and could be the difference between a foster youth lost in the system and youth maintaining permanency. Because of the lack of prevention funding, families have limited options when interacting with the child welfare system. Youth enter the foster care system because of the lack of options their family has when they are in the most need.
The Family First Prevention Services Act addresses these systemic problems by shifting the financial structure of child welfare to include more federal funds targeted toward prevention services for families. This means that families would have more options when interacting with child welfare. These options include mental health services, substance abuse prevention, and in-home parent supports for children and their parent or kinship caregiver. Foster youth and biological parents were active participants in developing this list of services that would have helped their families stay together.
5: Does the Family First Prevention Serivices Act Defund Congregate Care Facilities?
A: No. The foster care system includes many different placement options for foster youth, including congregate care. This is why foster youth often experience many different placement types, like kinship care (with family members), family foster care (with a family but not a biological family member), adoption, group homes, residential treatment centers, etc.
Congregate care facilities range in types, but they include group homes and residential treatment centers. The Family First Prevention Services Act limits the use of congregate care facilities to a specific subgroup of foster youth who would benefit from services offered in a congregate care setting. The subgroup includes:
- Pregnant and parenting teens
- Transitioning youth in an Independent Living arrangement
- Qualified Residential Treatment programs
This means that youth who are not pregnant or parenting, not transitioning to adulthood, and not having a clinical need for the treatment services provided in the residential treatment program will not be candidates for a congregate care placement.
Have more questions about Family First? Email our Policy Specialist, Jamie.