New York Foundation Brings on Family First Act Specialist

Jessica Rothkuo will serve as the senior program manager in charge of Family First Act implementation for nonprofit Redlich Horwitz Foundation.

Redlich Horwitz Foundation has brought in a full-time staff member to focus exclusively on working with counties around the State of New York around the Family First Prevention Services Act, a major shift in federal child welfare financing that will have significant implications for the state.

Jessica Rothkuo will join the New York City-based organization as its senior program manager in charge of Family First Act implementation. Rothkuo comes to Redlich from international consulting firm Deloitte, where she worked on child welfare technology issues. Rothkuo’s focus was on assisting states in developing plans for a Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), case management and data storage models meant to replace the archaic ones developed by most state child welfare systems in the 1980s.

Before that, Rothkuo was the executive director of the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Planning at New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversee child welfare and juvenile justice services in the city. Rothkuo oversaw the implementation of Strong Families NYC, a waiver of the federal Title IV-E entitlement funding that began in 2015 and enabled the city to invest in trauma screening, mental health coordination, lowering foster care caseloads, and in-home caregiver coaching.

Like all Title IV-E waivers, New York City’s will expire when the Family First Act’s major provisions take effect in October of 2019. The law was passed in February of 2018, and will enable states to use the Title IV-E entitlement – previously reserved for foster care and adoption support – to fund services aimed at working with parents without the need for a family separation.

At the same time, the law restricts federal funds for the placement of foster youth in group homes and other “congregate care” options. States will only be able to draw funds for such placements for two weeks, with exceptions for programs that serve some niche populations and for accredited providers using trauma-informed, clinical models. Even in those cases, a judge will need to periodically approve the need for continued use of a congregate care facility.

States can opt to delay the onset of those congregate care restrictions until 2021, but forfeit access to the foster care prevention services. New York officials appear inclined to take the full two-year delay, and have said that implementing Family First in 2019 could result in a $200 million statewide shortfall.

Redlich Horwitz has already emerged as a leader in advocating for the Empire State to make use of Family First. In 2018, it released a report arguing that the law should serve as the state’s “tailwind” in addressing high usage of congregate care. In January, it announced plans for a Family First support center with an online hub at

It is also among the philanthropic partners in the Family First Transition Fund, which has been included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 budget and will offer at least $3.6 million to help counties prepare for the new law.

Ultimately, it will be the state’s call to delay, meaning they control that decision for the 62 New York counties, which all operate austere child welfare systems. Regardless of when the law takes effect in New York, Rothkuo said the foundation’s strategy is twofold.

The first is working with counties to use the transition fund as a way to steer funds and technical assistance at the challenge of moving more kids out of group homes, and into family-based care. “This support … is a great opportunity to identify and provide what counties need to successfully shift toward family-based care,” she said.

Second, she said, “is to support counties in analyzing, selecting and procuring a wider array of prevention services that meet the requirements of Family First. We are incredibly invested in lifting up family voices and enabling community involvement in the prevention conversation moving forward.”

Rothkuo’s previous expertise with CCWIS could come in handy as the state thinks about how to incorporate new Family First services into its management system. The state has notified the federal government of its intention to transition its existing information system to a CCWIS-compliant version.

“Family First requires new data collection and documentation of new processes, specifically around placement,” Rothkuo said. “A new CCWIS system could be designed with family-centered care, and these new requirements, in mind. There are also opportunities to think creatively about how digital tools can support service matching and foster care licensing practices.”

[The Redlich Horwitz Foundation is a financial supporter of The Imprint. The foundation played no role in our decision to publish this article, per our editorial independence policy.]

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