Family First Act Policy Research

How have states have begun to exercise the flexibility afforded by Family First Preventative Services Act and what evidence might become available in the future to assess the impact of the legislation?

The Family First Prevention Services Act encourages states to use federal child welfare funds to provide prevention services that help families stay together and avoid having children sent into foster care. Passed in 2018, the legislation marks a significant policy change because these funds had previously been largely restricted to funding foster care services after children have been removed from their homes. In this study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and the Child Welfare League of America will employ a two-phase qualitative study to examine the new, transformative prevention services plans developed by 11 state and 5 tribal child welfare systems that are the first entities to have received approval for their plans to take advantage of flexibilities allowed under Family First. The first phase of the study will consist of a content analysis of the approved prevention services plans, focusing on six aspects: how target populations and candidates for services are selected; how prevention services are delivered; funding sources and structures; system collaboration and coordination; which program models are selected; and approaches to fidelity monitoring and program evaluation. In examining approaches to monitoring and evaluation, the team will consider what administrative data may be useful for future research on the impact of Family First implementation. In the second phase of the study, the team interview key state and tribal system personnel to assess their experiences during the development and early implementation of their plans, focusing especially on the role of evidence-based programs in state spending plans, the degree to which the spending plan for prevention services is comprehensive, and the extent to which developing the plan for child welfare involved coordination with other systems such as Medicaid, public health, early childhood, education, and juvenile justice.

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