A guiding value that has led KVC Health Systems for nearly 50 years is that “Children grow best in families” and in their own families whenever safely possible. In our decades of caring for children and families with in-home services, family prevention services, foster care, and behavioral healthcare, we have worked hard to ensure that families have the support and resources to keep their families safely together and their children healthy.
New federal funding from the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) that was signed into law on February 8, 2018 has now empowered more child welfare agencies and other organizations across the country to effectively help families when they experience a crisis. KVC has long offered these best practices of services, been a leader in reducing congregate care and championed innovative ways to help families stay safely together. While the Family First Act is still very new and no one has fully implemented it yet, there are several things you can do to learn about the new legislation and build support for it within your agency.
Here are a few important steps to implement the Family First Act:
Get to Know the Family First Prevention Services Act
One of the most extensive reforms of the foster care system in decades, the FFPSA offers 50% in matching funds to states that help safely prevent the need for foster care. This funding backs preventative services like substance use treatment, parenting skills education and mental health services to help prevent the need for removing children from their homes. Where previous laws had provided funding for services like foster care, family reunification, and adoption, the Family First Act allows agencies to focus on evidence-based prevention services, aiming to reduce the trauma and disruptions that removals can cause, rather than reimbursing funding to services like foster care, family reunification, and adoption.
The law also puts limits on the use of congregate care of children, also called institutional or group homes, as placements for youth in foster care. Knowing that group homes weren’t in the best interest of children, KVC worked to reduce the percentage of Kansas children in state custody who were living in congregate care from over 30% in 1996 to less than 4% just a few years later. The increase in children living in family-like settings ensured that children had access to much-needed family supports. Even as the state of Kansas, has experienced a large increase in the number of children in foster care, KVC has kept the congregate care rate at 6.5%, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Of those children who do live in a congregate/residential care setting, most are there for the specific purpose of receiving acute psychiatric treatment. The national average is 14% of youth in foster care being in congregate care and, in some states, it is as high as 34%. For these states, it is more of a challenge to provide family-like settings for children in foster care. Read more about KVC’s journey from congregate care to community-based care of children.
Additional requirements surround family reunification, foster parent recruitment and other areas that will best help families and children. For a summary of those requirements visit The Social Chronicles of Change’s summary here.
Get Leadership Buy-In and Support
The most important element for implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act is to have strong backing from your agency’s leadership. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a toolkit for leaders to help explain the benefits of the Family First Act. When everyone understands how this legislation and its funding helps achieve the best interests of children and families, momentum will build more quickly to implement the FFPSA and build stronger families and healthier, more prosperous communities.
“We can improve foster care. We have to. Working at the front end with families before foster care services are needed is our best chance of reducing disruptions and trauma and ending the cycle of childhood adversity,” said Chad Anderson, L.S.C.S.W., Chief Clinical Officer of KVC Health Systems.
Watch this video to learn how we can improve foster care in America.
Get Staff, Caregivers, and Families Educated
Another critical step is providing education for all employees, families, and partners. We can only have strong, healthy communities if families are supported and given the skills to be successful. Using best practices to strengthen families means working with urgency, being trauma-informed, and using integrated child welfare models like KVC’s Safe & ConnectedTM that promotes critical thinking and collaboration with the family and other stakeholders.
Get Child Welfare Services Aligned
To qualify for funding through the Family First Prevention Services Act, agencies must comply with service requirements. An agency should align all services to what’s best for children and families. This means aligning all services with what’s best for families, safely preventing the need for foster care, and using approved evidence-based practices. If foster care is needed, it should last for as short a time as is safely possible and must use evidence-based trauma-informed foster care services to best care for children and families.
Children and families can benefit greatly from the Family First Prevention Services Act, but it will take state child welfare agencies and other partners first understanding the law and implementing it. Download this free Family First Act checklist to learn how your agency can better help children and families. If you have any questions, please reach out to us. We’re happy to help.
- Why Family Preservation Services That Prevent Foster Care Are Key to Health Communities
- Children Grow Best in Families: Moving from Congregate Care to Community-Based Care
- First Ever Study of Trauma-Informed Foster Care Shows Stunning Results
- How Family Preservation Services Keep Families Together
- Family Preservation Programs Declared A Smart Investment in Families