The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research firm Abt Associates has been tapped to establish the clearinghouse that will dictate which programs are approved under a new federal reform of child welfare financing.
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) awarded Abt a contract through 2022 that could reach $5.2 million, and includes $1.8 million for the first wave.
The clearinghouse, which was supposed to be completed by this month, will eventually include a roster of evidence-based programs and models approved for use under the Family First Prevention Services Act. The law, which was passed as part of the 2018 spending deal back in February, opens up the Title IV-E foster care and adoption entitlement for services aimed at avoiding the need for foster care in more maltreatment cases. It also limits federal spending on congregate care settings such as group homes or institutions.
The scope and plan for the contract is “currently in the process of being developed,” said Monique Richards, spokesperson for ACF, in an email to The Imprint Of Social Change. Asked if there was a target date for the clearinghouse to go live, Richards said, “Since the contract is only a few days old, [ACF] does not have any additional information at this time.”
The new IV-E spending on preventing foster care will be limited to services related to substance abuse, mental health and parenting. And only evidence-based models and programs, listed in the clearinghouse to be built by Abt Associates, will be approved for spending.
There are three tiers of evidence that qualify under Family First:
Promising: “Superior to” a comparable practice using conventional standards of statistical significance. This must be borne out in an independently reviewed study that used “some form of control” group (a placebo group, a waitlist or a group of untreated people).
Supported: Same, but has a random-controlled trial or a “rigorous” quasi-experimental design. Must demonstrate sustained effects for six months beyond end of treatment.
Well-Supported: A sustained effect for “at least one year beyond the end of treatment.”
Half of state expenditures must go toward “well-supported practices,” the most stringent of the three classes. Very few services have this status under the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse, which is similar in structure to what Family First envisions for a national clearinghouse.
Family First also permits for matched federal funds to support kinship navigator programs, which provide assistance and referral services to relative caregivers. Only evidence-based navigator models will be eligible – it is unclear at the moment if one of the 70-plus programs in the country meet that threshold.
Abt is a well-known global contractor on social issues including health, education, governance and justice. The firm recently completed a four-year project with ACF on homeless families, including one report specifically on efforts to reunify children separated from their parents because of homelessness.
Note: This story was updated on October 3.