President Trump recently signed a bill to overhaul the foster care system. The Family First Prevention Services Act aims to keep children at home with their parents rather than in foster care. The new law focuses on at-home parenting classes, mental health counseling, and substance abuse treatment. It changes the rules on how states can spend their $8 billion in federal funding for abuse prevention.
Hope Cooper, founding partner of True North Group says, “It’s a really significant reform for families. The emphasis is really on helping kids stay safe with their families and helping vulnerable families get help earlier.” The compliance guidelines won’t be released until October, so much is left to speculation at this point. The law goes into effect next year, and the impact is expected to be substantial. Here are the most notable changes:
- Removes eligibility for “kinship caregivers” to receive foster care payments
- Prevention services will now be funded as entitlement, like Medicaid
- States may use federal funding to give at-risk families up to 12 months of mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and in-house parenting training
- Establishes licensing requirements for kinship caregivers
- Removes the requirement that states only use prevention services for extremely poor families
- Places limits on the time a child can spend in a foster care group home
The group home provision is undoubtedly the most controversial change associated with Family First. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 40% of teens in foster care group homes had no clinical reason for being there rather than in a family setting.
Some states, however, have come to heavily rely on group homes for foster care placement of children with complicated pasts. States will be allowed to request a two-year delay in implementation of the group home restrictions, but would also have to delay prevention funding during that time.
President Trump announced his goal in a statement recognizing May as National Foster Care Month. He said, “My Administration is dedicated to bringing help and healing to families threatened by addiction so that parents and children can stay together in a safe and stable home environment.”