DFPS Releases Strategic Plan for the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

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Background on the FFPSA | What the DFPS Strategic Plan Tells Us | What’s Next?

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) released its strategic plan for the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) in September 2020. The plan outlines options available to the legislature and ways DFPS plans to implement the provisions of the act.

We will get into what the strategic plan tells us and why it matters, but first, it’s important to start with some background.

Background on the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)

In February 2018, U.S. Congress passed the FFPSA, which restructures the way the federal government pays for child welfare services. The legislation aims to help families safely stay together and reduce the foster care population by preventing entry into foster care and reducing reliance on congregate care settings such as Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs). Title IV-E of the Social Security Act is the largest federal source of child welfare funds for states. The FFPSA changes Title IV-E funding in two primary ways:

  • Limiting the use of IV-E funds for certain congregate care placements, and
  • Allowing states to use IV-E funds to invest in prevention programs and services.

The FFPSA will provide states with additional funding flexibility to invest in prevention programs aimed at keeping children at imminent risk of foster care placement out of the system, assist pregnant and parenting youth already in foster care, and better support kinship caregivers. The law allows the use of federal funds for adult mental health and substance use prevention services, in addition to in-home, skills-based programs for parents. These services, however, must be evidence-based and approved by the Prevention Services Clearinghouse overseen by the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Under the FFPSA, states will no longer be able to use IV-E funding to support children in foster care who spend more than two weeks in “child care institutions,” a category that covers many of Texas’ congregate care facilities generally known as RTCs. Beyond the two weeks, IV-E funding will only support children’s placement in the following settings:

  • Facilities for youth who are pregnant and parenting,
  • Supervised Independent Living (SIL) for youth 18 and older,
  • Specialized placements for youth who are victims of or at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking,
  • Family-based residential treatment facilities for substance use disorder, and
  • Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs).

Texas faces a fiscal challenge since many of our existing congregate care placements do not meet new accrediting standards and are therefore ineligible for Title IV-E funds under this law after two weeks of placement. Because of this, Texas delayed implementation of the FFPSA until 2021, allowing DFPS and child placing agencies time to plan for how to comply with or adapt to the new federal guidelines, as well as to allow the Legislature time to determine how to appropriate funds for these provisions.

So, what does the DFPS Strategic Plan tell us about how Texas will implement the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA)?

The plan considers existing prevention services along with the long-term goals of the agency and the state’s expansion of Community-Based Care. The plan provides a breakdown of recommendations for the Texas Legislature to consider, in addition to how DFPS is actively working towards FFPSA compliance.

What are the fiscal implications?

With the 87th Legislature convening in January, legislators will be facing an austere budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature will determine whether to prioritize and provide a front-end investment to the state’s prevention service programing; otherwise, Texas risks losing $26 million annually in Title IV-E federal matching funds, beginning Sept. 29, 2021. Loss of federal funds will force the state to cover the cost of congregate care placements beyond the two-week mark out of the state’s general revenue.

How would the current Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) service landscape need to change to be FFPSA compliant?      

PEI grantees use a number of evidence-based service models to serve families who may not be involved with the child welfare system or may not be at imminent risk of entering the system. But to qualify for federal funding, these services would require additional upfront state investment in evidence-based prevention services beyond current appropriations, including 50% expenditure of state funds on well-supported practices in order to claim the 50% federal match under FFPSA. The evidence-based models DFPS is currently using in PEI generally do not qualify for FFPSA reimbursement, as they are not on the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse. This federal match opportunity may allow Texas to improve the quality of prevention services for families and children, and decrease recidivism.

What about Family Based Safety Services (FBSS)?

FBSS is the DFPS family preservation program designed to help avoid the removal of children from their homes by providing services to help stabilize the family and reduce the risk of future abuse or neglect. These services can be accessed through the community and are funded by numerous entities including federal, state, county and city grants; foundation grants; charitable donations; and other private sources. However, these services do not generally use evidence-based interventions approved under the FFPSA Clearinghouse.

The Strategic Plan offers multiple options for how the state could deliver FBSS through privatized mechanisms, including possibly PEI providers, Community-Based Care providers or other non-state providers. The plan also sets out the option for the state to incentivize FBSS providers to deliver approved, evidence-based services under the FFPSA Clearinghouse in order to maximize FFPSA reimbursement funds.

Children and families with an open FBSS case are not currently classified as candidates for foster care. This prevents Texas from claiming Title IV-E reimbursement funds to finance FBSS programs. However, as part of the Strategic Plan, DFPS has submitted a Title IV-E prevention plan to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) that would allow DFPS to claim federal reimbursement for FBSS by redefining its policy for foster care candidacy.

What enhancements are required under the FFPSA for kinship care?

FFPSA also allows states to claim federal funds for certain evidence-based, approved Kinship Navigator Programs. ACF has not yet approved a Kinship Navigator Program on the Title IV-E Clearinghouse, so there is no opportunity to draw down federal funds at this time.

The Strategic Plan outlines how DFPS is actively working towards strengthening support for kinship caregivers so that once ACF does approve programs in the Clearinghouse, DFPS can begin implementation strategies. DFPS has partnered with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to leverage the use of federal grant funds to enable 2-1-1 staff in supporting kinship families.

What’s more, DFPS will use additional federal grant funds to support a pilot that will strengthen the connections between Family Resource Centers (FRCs) and a Kinship Navigator Program. FRC services include parent skill training, job training, substance abuse prevention, mental health services, housing support, crisis intervention services and more.

How are child placement providers and DFPS preparing to adapt to new FFPSA accreditation standards?

Under the FFPSA, in order to receive Title IV-E funding after two weeks of a placement, congregate care placements must meet new accreditation standards of care. DFPS does not currently contract with any licensed placements that meet the new QRTP criteria under FFPSA.

DFPS cites in the Strategic Plan that for child placement providers to become accredited, Texas would incur a myriad of expenses to compensate residential providers for hiring new, 24/7 onsite nursing staff; and fully reinventing their model of care in becoming trauma-informed.

In 2019, DFPS was awarded a total of $50.3 million in Family First Transition Act funds to help implement the provisions of the FFPSA. $16.4 million of these funds went towards piloting a QRTP program, while the remaining $33.9 million went towards strengthening prevention services.

What are the judicial implications tied to the FFPSA and child protection cases?

To draw down federal funding for foster care in QRTPs under the FFPSA, courts must review and approve placements in foster care facilities that meet the new QRTP accreditation standards. This added court oversight is not required for congregate placements not yet accredited by FFPSA standards.

How does all this apply to Community-Based Care?

The provisions of the FFPSA also apply to the private contractors who are assuming many of the state’s powers, duties and responsibilities in the child welfare system under Community-Based Care (CBC).

As part of the phased rollout of CBC, Texas currently has active CBC providers in four of the sixteen service catchment areas. These providers will need to decide how they respond to the FFPSA. This will be dependent on the rates Texas pays under CBC and whether they are sufficient to meet the higher QRTP requirements. The plan also suggests that CBC providers could become FBSS providers, as an added responsibility under CBC.

What’s next?

Through its strategic plan, DFPS has identified options for the Texas Legislature and provided some guidance to prepare for FFPSA compliance in Texas. Ultimately, the legislature and state leaders will need to make the decision whether to prioritize and invest in higher-quality foster care, or lose substantial federal funding during the next biennium. Similarly, the legislature and state leaders will decide whether to invest in effective prevention services designed to keep children out of foster care. This is not the be-all-end-all: while these decisions will be made during the 2021 legislative session, compliance with the FFPSA and state investment in the options provided are an ongoing opportunity that can be revisited and augmented over time.

Texas CASA fully supports the goals of the FFPSA, including improving services to families to prevent entry into foster care and creating an intentional strategy for keeping kids in foster care in the least restrictive, most family-like settings possible. In fact, it’s one of our Legislative Priorities for the 87th Legislative Session to support its full implementation.

If the Texas Legislature decides to invest in fully implementing the FFPSA, costs will lower over time as new federal reimbursements come in and new, better services for children and families are developed. By investing now, we can create a better system for the future.

Learn more about the FFPSA in our March 2020 article, What the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) Means for Texas.