The U.S. Children’s Bureau notified state and local child welfare leaders this week that newly funded services under the Family First Prevention Services Act can be delivered remotely for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
The bureau will allow child welfare agencies to adapt programs or services “to a virtual environment to allow for children and families to receive necessary services without interruption and within public health guidelines,” the letter from Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner said.
The Family First Act, passed in 2018, permits states for the first time to use the Title IV-E child welfare entitlement for services aimed at preventing the use of foster care in some child welfare cases. Previously, IV-E federal dollars could only be spent on costs related to foster care placements and adoption support.
States can only draw on the entitlement for foster care prevention services that are approved by a newly established clearinghouse, and those services must adhere strictly to the manual or curriculum version on file. So in normal circumstances, if the manual for a service model does not include remote or virtual options, that delivery is not permitted under Family First.
This new directive from the Children’s Bureau temporarily relaxes that restriction until the nation is out from under a declared public health emergency. The current emergency declaration runs through January but is almost certainly going to be extended through most of 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic continues at record levels in the country.
This easement currently affects the District of Columbia and the eight states that have already been approved for prevention services under the Family First Act: Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, North Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Most states elected to take a delay on implementing the law to prepare for its other shift in federal financing, a limit on support for the placement of youth into group homes or institutions.
Another six states have submitted their prevention services plans and are awaiting approval, and more states are expected to submit in the near future.
The permission to move services virtual is in line with actions taken earlier in the pandemic by the Children’s Bureau, which quickly amended its rules on reunification services for parents to allow for those to continue even as the virus made in-person options unsafe.
“This flexibility will enable tribes and states with approved title IV-E prevention plans to safely provide prevention programs and services…that otherwise would be unavailable due to office closures, stay-at-home orders, and other disaster related obstacles,” said Milner.