Feds Approve Spending for Family First Evaluation, Research

The Family First Act was signed into law in February 2018, and mostly takes effect in October 2019

The child welfare research community has been waiting for an answer on whether federal dollars will flow for some of the work needed to build up the nation’s array of evidence-based programs for keeping families together. It is a critical piece of the puzzle as states gear up to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act, a child welfare reform that mostly took effect this month.

This week, it received a favorable answer.

The Children’s Bureau (CB) will allow a 50 percent federal match for the cost of evaluating the services it provides under Family First, a process researchers believe can greatly build the strength of evidence in child welfare. The money can be claimed as administrative costs through Title IV-E, the federal child welfare entitlement program.

Mark Testa, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, called it “an important step toward ending the evidence deficit in child welfare.”

The Family First Act was passed in 2018, and allows states to use IV-E for the first time to provide certain services aimed at preventing the need for foster care in some child welfare cases. Those services will generally fall in the areas of substance abuse, mental health and parenting, and states can also draw the funds for “kinship navigator” programs that help relatives and family friends temporarily care for kids.

But those funds will not flow for just any model of service. The Family First “prevention services” will be limited to a list of options on a newly established clearinghouse that meet one of three evidentiary tiers: “Promising,” “Supported” or “Well-Supported.” And half of the spending must come in that hardest-to-meet standard of Well-Supported.

Family First requires that states regularly conduct well-designed and rigorous evaluations of the services it provides under the law’s new provision. So it was expected, but never explicitly stated, that IV-E administrative costs would help cover the significant costs of doing this work.

CB made it clear with an update yesterday to the agency’s Child Welfare Policy Manual, an online question-and-answer resource for frequently asked question about policy matters.

“Conducting an evaluation … is a requirement of the Title IV-E prevention plan,” the new guidance says. “Therefore, the costs of conducting that evaluation are allowable Title IV-E administrative costs because it is necessary for the proper and efficient administration of the Title IV-E prevention plan.”

Testa said the evaluation process under Family First is critical in moving more services with Promising status into the upper tiers.

“The sharing of evaluation costs will accelerate the building of evidence at state and local levels and help earn many more promising practices the stronger effectiveness ratings of supported and well-supported programs,” said Testa.

Thus far, the clearinghouse has only approved nine programs. Six of them are Well-Supported, which is not surprising as the process began with a slate of models that had a well-established history of effectiveness. As the clearinghouse takes on more candidates, it is very likely a lot of them will land in the Promising or Supported tiers.

There are 17 programs currently under review by the clearinghouse right now. Because the review and approval process is behind schedule, states are also being allowed to submit potential services in the IV-E prevention plans they are required to submit.

The clearinghouse is also soliciting candidates for its next round of review from the public – the deadline is next week for submitting a program or model.

Our data collection project, Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families,
predicted a decline in the number of youth in care.

Join us for a free webinar on Oct. 30 to learn more.


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