The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 offers states an unprecedented opportunity to transform their child welfare systems. Among other things, the law reimburses states for substance abuse and mental health services and for parent skills training to prevent children's entry into care. The law also seeks to reduce states' reliance on group and residential treatment settings. Like many federal laws, Family First is big and complicated. Last year alone, lawmakers enacted 47 Family First-related bills in 24 states.
Here's a how-to guide to the strategies lawmakers are using now to take advantage of the law.
How to Maximize Collaboration
As of mid-April, 11 jurisdictions had submitted their required five-year Family First plans for approval by the federal Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse. Four of the plans--from the District of Columbia, Utah, Arkansas and Maryland--had been approved, with others expected to be OK'd in coming months.
Some of the plans place the goals of Family First within a broader strategy to improve child and family well-being. Washington, D.C.'s Child and Family Services Agency, for example, embedded its plan in the mayor's new Families First DC Initiative, an effort to strengthen families throughout the city.
Kentucky is using Family First as a tool to transform child welfare in the state. Its plan involves the Department of Community Based Services, the governor, the legislature, child welfare advocates, private and community agency partners and other stakeholders. According to the overview, the goal is "reorienting around prevention and family preservation and utilizing foster care as an intervention of last resort."
How to Engage Stakeholders
Lawmakers can work with child welfare agencies and other stakeholders to ensure that community resources, multiple public agencies and individuals who have direct experience with the system are engaged. They can educate legislative peers by leading interim work sessions, calling for informational briefings and forming task forces and work groups. They can request reports identifying eligible prevention programs; assess their agencies' plans to evaluate programs that have yet to receive federal approval; and request assessments of residential service providers and the costs associated with making them conform with Family First. Lawmakers can also request estimates of the costs that prevention services would avoid. And, of course, they can craft legislation to...