The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 represented the most significant reform in federal child welfare policy in many years. The bill includes historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care. It emphasizes the importance of children growing up in families and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their special needs when foster care is needed. Family First calls on each state to radically rethink their approach to child protection and family support.
Last Spring the Annie E. Casey Foundation released data that showed Tennessee lagged behind other states when working to assure children are placed in foster care and kinship families. The study found that Tennessee placed 77 percent of these young people in families in 2017, compared with 86 percent nationally. While most states have increased the percent of children in care placed in families since 2007, Tennessee’s rate dropped slightly from 79 percent. Just under half of teens in Tennessee custody were with families in 2017, a drop from 58 percent in 2007.
In the years since the data compared were collected, the Tennessee Department of Children Services has been successful finding children permanent homes through adoption. In fiscal year 2017, it had its highest number of adoption finalizations, and the following year placed an even higher number.
- Supports preventions services. The law gives states and tribes the ability to target their existing federal resources into an array of prevention and early intervention services to keep children safe, strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care whenever it is safe to do so.
- Provides support for kinship (relative) caregivers. Provides federal funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a broad range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them, and requiring states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers.
- Establishes requirements for placement in residential treatment programs and improves quality and oversight of services. Allows federal reimbursement for care in certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment
- Improves services to older youth. Allows states to offer services to youth who have aged out of foster care up to age 23, along with adding flexibility to the Education & Training Voucher (ETV) program.
Tennessee was one of more than a dozen states that asked to delay the implementation of the bill for two years. You can learn more about the bill and how states are implementing it at FamilyFirstAct.org.