(Posted 2021 September)
Recently, you may have heard about The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). Although it was enacted in 2018 by the federal government, conversation around this topic has picked up because funding and implementation began July 1, 2021.
The focus of FFPSA is twofold:
- Reducing the number of children in foster care by providing robust funding for child abuse and neglect prevention services that can bolster and support safe, stable families.
- Making sure that children who are separated from their parents and enter foster care are placed in family-like settings (foster care, kinship care) receiving evidence-based, trauma-informed services to support their resilience. The use of congregate care or residential treatment facilities will be limited, and there is an additional process to determine if that level of service is needed for our youth in care.
FFPSA has wide ranging implications for the child welfare system in Virginia and Local Departments of Social Services like ours in Fairfax County. It allows agencies to shift funds that previously were only available for foster care to provide prevention services and programs for up to 12 months to:
- A child (and their caregivers) who is a candidate for foster care who can remain safely at home or with a kin caregiver and is identified as being at imminent risk of entering foster care.
- A parenting or pregnant youth in foster care.
- A child whose adoption or guardianship arrangement is at risk of disruption/dissolution.
Virginia is adapting to this legislation. You may be aware that Virginia has ranked at the bottom of US states for kinship placements. In 2018, the overall national average for kinship placements was 32%, as opposed to 6% in Virginia (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission [JLARC], 2018). Fairfax County is slightly higher with 12% of children in foster care in kinship placements as of 2020.
In Fairfax County, FFPSA is in keeping with the way we value families as the experts on themselves and how we approach our work in partnering with them to keep their families together and deliver services that are tailored to their needs. Placing an emphasis on keeping children in family-like settings requires intentional efforts to engage relatives of children earlier in planning for children’s care and placement.
So, you might be wondering what this means?
- We still need foster parents to support children – Children will still come into foster care and in many cases, they will begin to receive services in the foster home. The love and care of a foster parent will be essential to helping children to heal.
- Shorter placements – As we begin to engage relatives earlier, the length of time that children spend in a non-relative foster home may decrease as kinship placements are identified and approved more quickly.
- More effort needed to Bridge the Gap – Foster parents will need to be even more proactive in working together with children’s biological families to keep open communication and help children to retain a sense of belonging through their cultural and community connections.
- More family reunifications – Currently in Fairfax, of the children who leave foster care, 24% return home to their biological families, 11% are permanently placed with relatives, and 3% are adopted by relatives. We anticipate that with stronger efforts to provide preventive supports to parents and relatives, more families will have the tools to provide safe and stable homes for children.
- Different/Longer path to adoption through foster care – As every effort is made to restore families safely, it might result in a different experience for those who want to adopt children in their care. This is a new dynamic for everyone, so it is best to remember that the first goal of foster care is and has always been reunification of the family whenever it is safe.
- There will be a transitional period – It is to be expected that as the Department leans more into a kin-first culture for placements, there will be a transitional period for staff and families. We ask for foster parents to be patient and bring specific questions to their assigned resource worker.
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