The federal Children’s Bureau has approved Montana’s and South Carolina’s five-year Family First Prevention Services plans, making them the 18th and 19th states to unlock access to millions of federal dollars for services to help families stay together instead of falling into the foster care system.
The two states spent more than three years developing their plans. Montana’s plan was approved early this month, and South Carolina’s last Thursday. The approvals allow them to capture 50% of the cost of their prevention services as they fully implement the landmark Family First Prevention Services Act.
“Our goal is to continue to modernize the child welfare system and enhance prevention services to strengthen families and prevent abuse and neglect,” said Adam Meier, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. “All children deserve the opportunity to grow up in safe, stable and nurturing families. This plan represents meaningful steps towards better aligning federal child welfare policy with this critical vision for Montana’s children and families.”
South Carolina hasn’t issued any updated statements about its efforts, but it was added to the list of approved states on the Children’s Bureau website.
Many other states, including some of the largest, are awaiting approval of their plans. Some have not submitted a plan, and they aren’t required to, but they would forfeit access to a 50% federal reimbursement for prevention services.
In the past, states could only use these Title IV-E funds after a child was in the foster system.
The Children’s Bureau, which is part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, had previously approved the plans of the District of Columbia and one tribe.
The overarching goal of all the plans is to provide prevention services aimed at keeping children and youth safely at home with their families, making a traumatic removal into foster care a last resort. When prevention services fail and foster care is needed, however, the money can be used to help ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their special needs.
In Montana, the state said, 85% of children in foster care are in a family setting, with 50% placed with family members.
Title IV-E funding provides for time-limited prevention services including mental health services, substance use treatment and in-home parenting skill training for families whose kids are in danger of falling into foster care.
The plan also seeks to improve the well-being of children already in foster care by incentivizing states to reduce placement of children in congregate care — an area Montana has worked to address.
Creation of the plan involved many stakeholders, Meier said, including former and current foster youth, foster families, child welfare providers, tribal governments, local lawmakers, state officials and community partners.