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What's New

The Family First Prevention Services Act H.R. 5456

- Blog By Angelica Cox, VFA Policy Intern 2016

Today, a family can only become eligible for federal support if they meet standards that were set over 25 years ago with the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Even though this law was dismantled nearly two decades ago, federal foster care funding is still tied to 1996 requirements that help fewer children in foster care each year. Those who qualify for assistance have to wait for their caseworker to go through an outdated system to provide adequate documentation. Moreover, it is clear that the federal child welfare system is in urgent need of reform. The proposed Family First Prevention Services Act (H.R. 5456) takes these long overdue steps to reduce unnecessary paperwork and to redirect federal dollars to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families.

According to Representative Hughes, H.R. 5456 has two main goals. The first goal is to strengthen families and reduce unnecessary foster care placements for youth using federal child welfare dollars to pay for up to 12 months of preventative family services, and the second focused on preventing long-term placements for youth in congregate care and group homes. This landmark legislation would abolish income requirements set decades ago, and instead provide front-end access to mental health services, substance abuse services, and in-home parent skill based programs to “candidates” of foster care. Important to the adoption community, H.R. 5456 states that candidates for foster care include “a child whose adoption or guardianship arrangement is at risk of disruption or dissolution that would result in a foster care placement.”

Currently, the IV-E foster care entitlement is the largest federal child welfare expenditure structured primarily to support children in foster care. Under the H.R. 5456, states will be able to use Title IV-E reimbursement to keep families together. Although the H.R. 5456 would delay the final implementation of additional federal adoption reimbursements for infants and toddlers, this money will be redistributed to offset other prevention services.

Too often, families are torn apart for mental health reasons and substance abuse issues that could have been preventable. According to the drafters of H.R. 5456 it is important to keep children out of foster care at any cost and to strengthen the families that help them. Because of their history, children in foster care are more likely than other children to exhibit emotional or high levels of behavioral problems. Children in the system have all faced traumatic events that are associated with multiple poor outcomes – in childhood and adulthood. Therefore, providing preventative and post-adoption services can dramatically improve their long-term quality of life.

H.R. 5456 opens up an avenue of post-adoption services, which keeps children from having to re-enter foster care to receive these services. For many children and families, post-adoption services are critical to their ability to move forward and to help reduce the risk of an adoption’s disruption. Beyond this substantial post-adoption support H.R. 5456 will provide, the proposed legislation takes imperative steps to guarantee that foster children who need care will be placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their needs. This legislation re-defines what a qualifying congregate care institution is, and limits federal support for those that do not meet the national standard. Only a licensed family home approved by the state that provides twenty-four hour care to six or fewer children in foster care, or a child-care institution with no more than twenty-five youth meets the federal standard. Qualified child-care institutions include: a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP), a setting specializing in providing prenatal, post-partum, or parenting supports for youth, and a supervised independent living program for young adults.

Studies have shown that foster youth in a family-based setting – with relatives or unrelated foster parents – allow youth to have normalized interpersonal experiences and more positive opportunities for development that is vital to their resilience. Importantly, H.R. 5456 provides much needed assistance to families that are struggling. Voice for Adoption supports the Family First Prevention Services Act H.R. 5456 because it will provide an opportunity for post-adoption services and enable adopted foster youth to maintain their permanent and loving families.  

Check out a link to the summary of H.R. 5456.