The federal Prevention Services Clearinghouse has cleared two new service models for funding under the Family First Prevention Services Act, bringing the current number of options up to 36, and plans to re-review a kinship support program that some were surprised did not pass muster on its first pass.
The Family First Act was passed in February of 2018, and mostly took effect in October of 2019, although states were given the option to delay its onset until October of this year. It enables 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. Those services must be evidence-based and apply to three areas: parenting, substance abuse treatment and mental health interventions.
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.
The clearinghouse for Family First is limited to three types of in-home services — substance abuse, mental health and parenting interventions — and kinship navigator programs, which help support relatives and family friends caring for loved ones. And it is further restricted to models of services that are deemed to meet one of three thresholds of evidence: Well Supported, Supported and Promising. Under the law, states must spend half of their prevention services funding on Well-Supported programs.
Last week’s announced approvals included Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a process for addressing traumatic memories, and Parents Anonymous, a support system designed to help parents and children in separate group environments. Both services received a rating of Supported. The clearinghouse also announced that three models did not meet the criteria for federal funding under Family First: a version of cognitive behavioral therapy known as Alternatives for Families; Parent Connectors, a peer support program for people with children that struggle with behavioral health challenges; and Together Facing the Challenge, which trains therapeutic foster parents caring for kids with behavioral health challenges. [We’re assuming that last one was proposed for helping to train relatives and kin who take temporary custody of children, since the whole point of this funding stream is to avoid the use of foster care].
The clearinghouse also announced that it would reconsider the candidacy of Ohio’s Kinship Supports Intervention program, also known as ProtectOHIO. Many believed that a 2017 evaluation of the program was of high enough quality and showed enough impact to get at least a Promising rating, but the clearinghouse dismissed the findings in March 2020 due to issues over “baseline equivalence,” essentially saying it was not clear if the comparison group and treatment group were enough alike.
The decision frustrated researchers and kinship advocates alike. “You can’t get much closer to Promising than what this study tried to do using a quasi-experimental design,” said Mark Testa, a veteran child welfare researcher who co-edited the journal that published the Ohio evaluation, in an interview with Youth Services Insider after the model was negged in 2020.
One of the evaluation’s co-authors, Cailin Wheeler, told YSI in 2020 that she had re-run the data to conform with the clearinghouse’s standards, and believed the findings would hold up. More than a year later, the clearinghouse will give it that second look.
If the Ohio model gets approved, it will be the first kinship navigator to do so, and we would not be surprised to see many other states start navigators or redesign existing ones around it. Right now, about $20 million a year goes out from the federal government for kinship navigators; but an approved model under Family First could draw a 50-50 match from the feds. And the need for quality support programs to help relatives has only grown as most state systems increasingly rely on kin to care for more youth in the system.
In addition to the re-review of ProtectOHIO, the clearinghouse is currently assessing a California kinship navigator program operated by the nonprofit Lilliput, which is part of a larger organization called Wayfinder Family Services.
There are now 10 Well-Supported programs, 10 Supported and 16 Promising. Another 24 programs have been reviewed and found to not meet the criteria for admission, including all of the kinship navigator models that have been reviewed thus far. Another 29 programs are currently planned for review by the clearinghouse, in addition to the re-review of the Ohio kinship program.