The U.S. Children’s Bureau on Friday greenlighted Washington state’s plan to spend federal funds to provide services to families whose children might otherwise be taken away and placed in foster care.
The approval makes Washington the sixth state to gain approval for new funds under the Family First Prevention Services Act, which was signed into law in 2018 and began to take effect last October.
The Family First Act amended the Title IV-E entitlement, which previously had only helped states pay for costs related to foster care and adoption. States that receive approval for a IV-E prevention plan can now receive funds through the entitlement for certain services – mental health, substance abuse and parenting – aimed at preventing the need for child removals in some cases.
From the state capital of Olympia, Washington’s child welfare secretary, Ross Hunter, issued a statement explaining how profound the impact could be on families.
“Kids are usually better off with their parents than they are with strangers,” he said. “After decades of only getting federal funding to pay for foster care, we can now invest that money to strengthen families up front so that their kids don’t wind up in foster care.”
The other states that had previously earned the Children’s Bureau’s sign-off are Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and Utah. Six states’ plans are pending submission or approval: Alaska, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia.
The District of Columbia was the first system to receive Family First approval. Two Native American tribes have submitted plans: the Aleut Community of St. Paul, Alaska, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.
Washington’s approval comes on the heels of more troubling news about the state’s ability to find foster homes for some of its older and more troubled youth. The state ombuds’ office recently reported in the fiscal year that ended in August, 220 foster youth spent 1,863 nights in hotels or office buildings because the state charged with their care had nowhere better to house them. Steven Grilli, Washington’s director of child welfare programs, said the state will implement the complex plan in stages, in concert with community and tribal partners that helped shape the plan over many months.