The legislation, called the Family First Prevention Services Act, will fund evidence-based preventive mental health, substance abuse, and in-home parenting programs for children at risk of entering the child welfare system. Starting October 1, 2019, the legislation will allow Title IV-E entitlement money to be used for these services for up to 12 months. (See the relevant provisions of the bill or the full bill text for details.)
The Family First legislation was nearly enacted in late 2016, but pulled at the last moment after objections by Sen. Richard Burr. Several states had also objected to the bill’s funding of congregate care.
A report released by RAND last year suggested that prevention programs like those funded by the bill could achieve better child outcomes and save money.
What Counts As Evidence-Based?
To qualify for federal funding, the services must be trauma-informed and meet the legislation’s standards for programs that are promising, supported, or well-supported by evidence. At least half of the federal share of this funding must be spent on services that meet the highest (well-supported) evidence standard.
The Department of Health and Human Services is directed to issue guidance on the provisions later this year — by October 1, 2018 — a year before they become effective. The guidance must also include a pre-approved list of services that satisfy the bill’s evidence requirements. After that, HHS is directed to update the list as often as it deems necessary. The bill also authorizes the creation of a clearinghouse to rate the research on these services, either by the department or through a grant or contract.
Many of these programs have already been rated by clearinghouses such as the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Effective Prevention Programs (NREPP), although the latter clearinghouse has been frozen since last September. The new law’s evidence standards are reportedly very similar to those used by the California clearinghouse.
Several other resources are also available that could help child-serving agencies implement such evidence-based programs, including:
- SIRC, Using Evidence in Child Welfare (February 9, 2017)
- SIRC, Building Performance Systems in Child Welfare (February 8, 2016)
- CEBC, Contracting Evidence-Based Practices for Families Involved in Child Welfare (December 28, 2017)
- Society for Social Work and Research, Is Child Welfare Ready for an Evidence-Supported World? Successes and Challenges of the Permanency Innovations Initiative (PII) (January 12, 2018)
- SIRC, Foster Care Innovation Initiative Charts a Different Path to Evidence (December 6, 2014)
- SIRC, Pay for Success in Child Welfare: A Case Study (February 12, 2015)