Feds Won’t Disclose Which States Might Delay on Family First Act

The Family First Prevention Services Act requires the establishment of an evidence-based clearinghouse

The Children’s Bureau (CB) might have some idea how many states are thinking about seeking a delay on implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. But it’s not telling.

Mum’s the word, for whatever reason, about what news came in by the November 9 deadline the agency imposed on states to notify CB about whether they intended to seek a delay on implementing the law. Family First passed this year and will increase federal resources for preventing the use of foster care while limiting federal funds for group homes and other “congregate care” settings. CB is the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that will most directly deal with its implementation.

The law’s major provisions take effect in October of 2019, but it permits states to seek up to a two-year delay on certain parts, most notably the limits on congregate care spending. Any state that obtains a delay cannot take advantage of the Family First funds on the front end, which reimburse half the costs of substance abuse, mental health and parenting services.

Youth Services Insider has asked several times in the week since the deadline for a list of states that have indicated an intent to delay on Family First. CB isn’t having it.

“The Children’s Bureau is currently in the process of assessing the information submitted by the states and does not have any additional information to provide at this time,” said Monique Richards, a spokesperson at HHS.

YSI is a little surprised at that, since states were not being asked necessarily to defend their intentions with mitigating circumstances. The agency only asked for an effective date the state planned on being ready, along with a signature.

It is hard to imagine what complexity exists in the submissions, or why the information should not be public. YSI has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the records related to this deadline, which HHS acknowledged receipt of today.

To be clear, this was a fairly unofficial and unregulated deadline anyway. CB issued a program instruction in July with the November 9 deadline, which was never included in the law. When asked about the delay deadline by the House Ways and Means Committee, CB Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner said it was just for planning purposes and was not binding. States would be permitted to announce a delay closer to 2019, and could reconsider their decision to delay.

So the delay deadline is little more than a heat check for CB as it plans the rollout of Family First, and it might not be a great indicator anyway. Voters elected 20 new governors this month, and none of their yet-to-be-selected child welfare leaders will feel beholden to the Family First decisions made by administrators during a lame duck period.

Still, it would be interesting to know how many states seem set to pursue a delay. And it is annoying that CB would take a posture against transparency on this; hopefully not an approach it will take across the board when it comes to coverage of Family First.

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