Congresswoman Bass Introduces Support for “Family First” Legislation

On May 14, 2019 Representative Karen Bass, (D – Ca) Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, along with colleagues in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, introduced the “Family First Transition and Support Act of 2019,” which would provide resources and funding flexibility for state and tribal child welfare systems to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First) — a landmark piece of legislation signed into law in 2018 designed to transform the way the federal government funds child welfare services.

Across the nation, child welfare agencies are in crisis due to a lack of resources and high numbers of children entering the foster care system, many of whom are in need of behavioral and mental health services largely attributable to traumatic childhood experiences. For decades, most federal child welfare funding became available to states only after children were removed from their families. Family First changes that by funding services that keep children safe, and whenever possible, keep them in the care of their families by allowing states and tribes to use federal dollars for certain services that prevent the child from entering foster care. Services include substance-use disorder treatment, mental health care, and in-home parenting skills. States need additional resources to ensure a seamless transition to Family First so that all children and families can maximize the law’s full potential.

The Family First Transition and Support Act of 2019, which would enhance support for parents and relatives who are struggling to care for their children, was introduced by Representative Bass along with Representatives Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Deb Haaland (D- New Mex.) and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

“Far too often, Congress passes landmark legislation without supplemental funding to ensure effective implementation,” said Congressmember Bass. “Without this piece of legislation that we introduced today, the benefits expected from the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act will either not be fully realized or not realized in a timely way. There are too many families and children who are relying on us to get this right. I urge my colleagues to act with the same alacrity we did to get Family First passed so that we as a body can ensure that we are doing our best for those in our child welfare system.”

“One of my priorities after the FFPSA was signed into law, was to ensure proper implementation of the provisions in the bill,” said Congressman Bacon, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “This includes a smooth transition for providers and state agencies, and fixes to any unintended consequences due to the roll-out. The Family First Transition and Support Act would ensure these concerns are met, and I am happy to co-lead this important legislation.”

“The Family First Prevention Services Act, passed last year by Congress, was a bipartisan, transformative law reforming our child welfare system,” said Rep. Lawrence, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “I am so pleased to join my colleagues to introduce the Family First Transition and Support Act that will provide access, funding, and resources to aid the most vulnerable families across this country and ensure that FFPSA is fully implemented.”

“Congress passed the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act last year with the intention of improving our nation’s child welfare system by prioritizing prevention services. Unfortunately, states continue to lack adequate resources to transition to this model,” said Congressman Langevin, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “This important legislation will provide states the support they need to care for our most vulnerable youth and fully realize the benefits of Family First. As a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I’m proud to work with Congressmember Karen Bass on these efforts.”

“Every child deserves a safe and loving home. As we know well in my state of New Mexico, which is ranked at the bottom of the list for child wellbeing, too often children don’t have the home environment they need to thrive,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Vice Chair on Families and Children Living in Poverty. “Much of this can be addressed by ensuring state and tribal child welfare systems have the resources to support families and help them build safe homes so our children can thrive. This bill puts families first so we can prevent the adverse and traumatic events that put our kids at risk.”

The Family First Transition and Support Act would:

Eliminate the outdated Federal Title IV-E foster eligibility requirements for foster family homes tied to the 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) law, commonly referred to as the “look back,” which limits Federal foster care and family support to only those children removed from very low-income families;
Expand funding for kinship support services, including childcare, transportation, and legal services to ensure families have access to services that meet their needs and keep children safe in their homes;
Provide states and tribes with more time to develop the research base for prevention programs they want to use by delaying the FFPSA 50% well-supported requirement;
Enhance funding for caseworker training and development;
Provide additional funds for State-directed research to develop interventions to meet Family First evidenced-based requirements, strengthen families, improve service delivery for youth victims of trafficking, and reduce inter-generational poverty;
Boost funding for Regional Partnership Grants to allow more local and regional groups to address parental substance use and child well-being;
Enhance funding for the child welfare Court Improvement Program and Tribal Court Improvement Program;
Provide new time-limited resources to support quality foster parent recruitment and retention;
Provide short-term Federal support to help States meet Family First licensing and accreditation standards for quality residential treatment programs and therapeutic foster care settings; and
Provide additional resources and improvements for tribal child welfare programs.

Zach Siedl

The Actors' Gang

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