Texas prepares for Family First Prevention Services Act

Texas is preparing to implement a recent federal law that provides funds for services to prevent children from entering foster care. The law also defines which group home settings qualify for federal funding.

Texas has delayed implementing certain provisions of the law because it does not have a sufficient number of service providers eligible to receive the funds, but the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is hearing from stakeholders about the provider capacity needed to meet federal requirements. More than half the states have delayed implementation.

Federal law. The federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA or Family First Act) allows states to receive funds through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act that previously were available to be spent only on services such as foster care placements, adoption assistance, and guardianship. States now may use the funds for time-limited prevention services for children at imminent risk of entering foster care, for parents or kin caregivers of such children, and for pregnant or parenting youth in foster care. Services may be provided for up to 12 months, with no limit on how many times a child and family may receive prevention services if the child continues to be at risk of entering foster care.

The Family First Act also limits Title IV-E funds for placing foster children in group homes and similar settings. Some say that children placed in group homes, residential treatment centers, and shelters, known as “congregate care” settings, may develop more behavioral issues which could reduce their chance of finding a permanent home. States may only receive funds for two weeks for congregate care placements with the exception of placements in a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP), a setting specializing in prenatal, post-partum, or parenting support for affected youth, a supervised setting for children who are at least 18 years old, or high-quality residential care for youth at risk of or victims of human trafficking.

A QRPT is a professionally accredited program using a trauma-informed treatment model for children with serious emotional or behavioral disorders. To receive funds, a QRTP also must have licensed clinical staff onsite, include the child’s family in the child’s treatment plan, and provide discharge planning and family-based aftercare for at least six months.

The Family First Act took effect October 1, 2019, but states may delay implementation through fiscal 2021, in which case they forgo federal reimbursement of time-limited prevention services during the delay.

Delayed provisions. According to DFPS, Texas in November 2018 notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of its decision to delay certain provisions required by the Family First Prevention Services Act, including:

  • limits on Title IV-E foster care maintenance payments for placements that are not foster family homes;
  • limits on the number of children in a foster family home, which is defined as having six or fewer children, with certain exceptions;
  • federal reimbursement of Qualified Residential Treatment Programs; and
  • certification that the state would not enact policies that could significantly increase the juvenile justice population in order to receive reimbursement through the Family First Act.

According to DFPS, delay was necessary because Texas does not have enough qualified providers. The state does not have QRTPs to serve the highest-needs kids and draw down federal money. The department also said that Texas does not have enough providers that meet federal standards to offer eligible prevention services for mental health, substance abuse treatment, and in-home parenting skills. Eligible prevention services must meet certain general practice requirements, including indicating how a practice produces meaningful improvements in child and parent outcomes. Texas continues to receive guidance from the federal government on what evidence-based services will be acceptable for drawing down federal funds.

State preparation. The state is preparing to implement the Family First Act with two bills enacted last year by the 86th Legislature. SB 355 by West requires DFPS to develop and submit a plan by September 1, 2020, to identify service providers, maximize resources, and apply for funding. SB 781 by Kolkhorst directs DFPS to assess the fiscal implications to the state of developing qualified residential treatment providers that meet federal standards.

In November 2019, the department said in a House committee hearing that it was conducting a cost-benefit analysis and hosting workgroups with stakeholders. Some group home providers noted that they already are seeking accreditation to become Qualified Residential Treatment Programs. DFPS also said it received grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to better serve kinship caregivers and help create by 2027 an electronic interstate system to exchange data on children placed across state lines.

While Texas and other states prepare for the Family First Prevention Services Act, a 2019 federal spending law that includes the Family First Transition Act (FFTA) appropriates $500 million in one-time funding to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to be allotted to states for programs, services, and operational costs associated with transitions needed to implement the act.

By Alison Hern

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