FAMILY FIRST ACT – KEEPING CHILDREN SAFE MEANS MORE THAN KEEPING THEM OUT OF THE SYSTEM

We know few events are more traumatic for children than being separated from their parents. And research shows that children are at higher risk for impaired neurodevelopment, psychiatric problems, poverty, future homelessness and criminal justice involvement once they are taken into state custody. Anywhere from 30–40% of homeless adults identified themselves as once being in foster care. 

Supportive housing initiatives help stabilize families so they can provide safe and healthy environments for children. 

What Are Our Legislators Doing?

The passage of last year's Family First Prevention Services Act was a tremendous step toward keeping children out of the foster care system.

Beginning October 1, 2019, through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, states with approved plans will be allowed to use federal funds that had been restricted for foster care and adoption services to provide enhanced support services such as mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, in-home parent skill-based programs, and kinship navigator services to address issues and prevent children from being removed from the home in the first place. Both Missouri and Kansas are developing plans to be able to devote more resources to these interventions to keep children safe. 

It is laudable that the Family First Prevention Services Act aims at keeping children out of foster care, but that is only after they come to the attention of the child welfare system and have probably experienced some form of abuse or neglect. But can the need for intervention ultimately be avoided?

Child abuse and neglect are preventable and we know prevention works. Providing support and referrals to resources that helps parents be better mothers and fathers strengthens families. There are other investments that can be made to keep children safe and out of the system completely.

The current federal budget dedicates $709 million in Title IV-B funds for programs that will prevent child maltreatment—housing, home visiting, child care, mental health, substance abuse and monetary support. This is a small amount of support for such a growing need and less than 10 percent of the more than $9.5 billion in federal funds that are available for foster care, adoption and intervention through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act through Family First. 

How Can I Help?

As the Family First Prevention Services Act moves toward implementation this fall, the 116th Congress should be thanked for its efforts to keep children safely in their homes. However, we must encourage our lawmakers to:

  • Substantially increase Title IV-B funding for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program that focuses on services that promote child development and prevent child abuse and neglect.
    • Call or email your legislators! Look up your senators here and your representatives here. You can also contact the leadership in both the Senate and the House
    • Tweet and post Facebook messages to your representatives and senators as well. Don't forget to use the hashtag #Pledge2Prevent.
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