Two more states have joined the roster of states that can now use the federal child welfare entitlement to support services for families whose kids might otherwise be taken away and fall into the foster care system.
As a result of the U.S. Children’s Bureau’s recent approval of plans that West Virginia and North Dakota submitted, millions of dollars in aid that they previously could have spent only on costs related to foster care and adoption may now also be used to keep families intact in the first place.
The approvals make West Virginia and North Dakota the seventh and eighth states, along with the District of Columbia, to gain the federal government’s permission to use Title IV-E money for family preservation services under the Family First Prevention Services Act. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law in 2018, and it began to take effect in October 2019.
Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia and a few Native American tribes have submitted five-year plans that await a thumbs-up from the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau. The plans of Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Utah and Washington were previously approved.
In addition to marking another step toward the national goal of reducing the number of families that experience the trauma of separation, the approval of West Virginia’s prevention services plan is significant for another reason. The third poorest state in the nation, West Virginia, with the highest rate of foster care removals in the country, was sued in federal court by child advocates in September.
The suit, filed by A Better Childhood, a New York-based nonprofit litigator, alleged that the state handed off abused or neglected children to unverified relatives and did not pay those caretakers the same as it paid licensed foster families. The suit also claimed the state doomed hundreds of youths to age out of foster care from institutions and group homes.
Government approval of West Virginia’s prevention plan could ease pressure on its child welfare system, assuming the new offer of federal funds enables the state to keep more children at home with parents.
The Family First Act became law in 2018, and took effect in 2019. It allows states to draw on the Title IV-E entitlement for foster care prevention services that have been authorized by an evidence clearinghouse, and the law also limits the amount of federal money that can be spent on placing children in group settings.
States were given the option of taking a delay of up to two years for implementing Family First, and the majority of states have done so.