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What the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) Means for Texas

The federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), passed in 2018, intends to help child welfare systems across the U.S. keep more families together and create better outcomes for children who have to be in foster care. It changes the way the federal government funds child welfare systems to incentivize these goals.

The FFPSA will not be implemented in Texas until Oct.1, 2021, and right now, it’s unclear what that will look like. In this CASA Deep Dive, we’re taking a close look at the FFPSA and how it could reshape how our child welfare system operates here in Texas – and why it matters.

What are the goals of the Family First Prevention Services Act?

One goal is to prevent families from entering the child welfare system in the first place by offering more and better services to families in crisis. For children who must enter foster care, the goal is to keep them in more family-like settings.

With the FFPSA, states will receive reimbursement for certain prevention services for the first time. These services have to target the families who are most at risk – experiencing challenges with substance use, mental illness and parenting skills. In order to qualify for federal funding, the services provided to these families have to be evidence-based and trauma-informed.

The federal government will also now pay for services for pregnant or parenting youth in foster care and family members who are raising children in foster care, otherwise known as kinship care.

Additionally, the FFPSA seeks to reduce the number of children living in group homes, residential treatment facilities, rehab and other group settings. It incentivizes housing these children in less-restrictive living situations whenever safe and possible, such as with family members or in family foster homes. Moving away from group care facilities will allow children to be in more attentive and family-like environments, benefiting their emotional and physical well-being and increasing their likelihood of returning home or finding another permanent family.

The FFPSA is incentivizing states to reduce the number of children in group settings by requiring systems to prove that children need an intensive level of treatment and by only paying for high-quality, trauma-informed and nationally accredited facilities. The federal government will no longer pay for more than two weeks of placement in group settings that do not meet the heightened standards. It will, however, continue to pick up the tab for kids placed in family-like settings.

How could the Family First Prevention Services Act change the Texas child welfare system?

The FFPSA presents an opportunity for Texas to create a more family-centered, evidence-based and trauma-informed child welfare system that works to prevent children from entering foster care in the first place and incentivizes foster placements that are better for the children that do.

Currently, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is developing a set of recommendations to submit to the Texas Legislature about how Texas should implement the FFPSA, but it is unclear what those recommendations will be or what the legislature will decide.

The standards for group facilities outlined in the FFPSA would require significant financial investment from Texas, as almost no facilities here currently meet the heightened requirements. With this in mind, Texas could choose not to increase requirements for our group care settings, and children living in those settings would not be covered by federal reimbursement after the two-week deadline. This would ultimately leave Texas to pay for the most expensive placements in its system.

Additionally, while new money is available for prevention services, Texas would need to invest some of its own money to ensure those services are widely available, evidence-based and trauma-informed in order to see a reduction of families becoming formally involved with the child welfare system.

At the end of the day, it will be up to the legislature to decide if, and how, the state will invest new money into the child welfare system in order to take full advantage of new options for federal financial support.

What does Texas CASA recommend?

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.

We believe the child welfare system in Texas should shift its practices to move toward achieving these goals, even though we recognize there are financial and practical barriers that make it difficult in the short-term. 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 are developed. Providing additional investment in our child welfare system will allow many families to access improved services that will likely prevent their children from entering foster care. Additionally, new and greater investment will reduce the number of children needing intensive treatment in a group setting and promote more family-like placements, creating better long-term outcomes for them.

By investing in our child welfare system now, we can create a better system, lower the cost of services in the future and eventually free up state dollars with new money from the federal government. As we get closer to implementation deadline, we will continue to update you on the decisions that DFPS and the legislature make.

What can I do to help?

If you believe Texas should fully implement the FFPSA, the best thing you can do to help is to contact your state representative and senator. Let them know that you favor keeping children in foster care in the least restrictive, most family-like settings possible and that you support creating a foster care system focused on providing evidence-based and trauma-informed prevention services to families.

Not sure who your legislators are or how to contact them? Find out here.

With the FFPSA, Texas has the opportunity to improve our current child welfare system into one focused on prevention, keeping families together and creating healthier environments for the children it serves. By contacting your legislators about the FFPSA, you are directly advocating for an improved child welfare system for all Texas children and families!

References & Further Reading

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