Family First Act changes child welfare financing landscape

BlogChild WelfareMar 6 2018

Our nation’s child welfare system is tasked with ensuring that children are safe and can experience the benefits of a permanent family and overall well-being. Within this system, services and supports such as mental health and substance abuse treatment are often needed to keep children safe with their families. The recent passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act now allows the largest federal funding source for child welfare agencies (Title IV-E of the Social Security Act) to pay for services to prevent children from being removed from their families and placed in foster care. This represents a game-changing modification to the child welfare financing landscape that prioritizes keeping children with their families.

For decades, Title IV-E could only be used by child welfare agencies for services and supports once a child had been removed from their home (unless a state had a Title IV-E waiver, which allowed the funds to be used more flexibly). The easing of restrictions for this funding stream is significant because approximately one-quarter of child welfare agency spending is funded by Title IV-E ($6.8 billion out of $29.1 billion in State Fiscal Year 2014), part of which is now available for preventive services.

The rules and restrictions that come with funding streams (for example, eligible populations, eligible services, etc.) are important because they dictate what services are available to the millions of children annually referred to child welfare agencies for maltreatment allegations. Given the importance of this issue, Child Trends (with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs) conducts a biennial national survey of how child welfare agencies are financed. Resources from the most recent survey are available via  Child Trends, and include a webinar on financing child maltreatment prevention and family support services, as well as state-level fact sheets. We are now conducting the State Fiscal Year 2016 survey and will release findings later in 2018. While this year’s survey will not capture future changes due to the Family First Act, it will be an important baseline to determine how spending on and services for children and families change after the Act is implemented.