hand on a car door

How accreditation supports child welfare’s shift to prevention

Family First Prevention Services Act opens door for groundswell in child and youth services

One night long ago, someone tried (and failed) to break into my car. Luckily, the would-be burglar succeeded only in punching out the lock on my driver’s-side door. Nothing was taken, but the damage left me unable to enter the car from the driver’s side.

Over the next year, I accessed my car through the passenger door, sliding over the center console to the driver’s seat. This routine got to be so normal that I stopped thinking about it. I accepted it. The car functioned after all. Only after changing cars did I remember there was another way to get in.

Funny how the options we are given affect how we approach a situation. I used only the door available to me even though I would have benefited from having a new one.

This memory popped into my head as I spoke to Leslie Ellis-Lang, CARF’s managing director of Child and Youth Services, discussing the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). I realized the new legislation is a lot like having access to a new car door. Whether you believe it replaces something broken or provides an alternative, it will change how we fund child welfare and provide services to children and families.

In the case of FFPSA, the new door is prevention.

Prevention services

One of the biggest drivers of service options is the availability of funding. When a piece of federal legislation redefines how public funds can be used, it changes the array of available services.

FFPSA’s primary focus is prevention services. Simply put, states will be able to use Title IV-E foster-care funds for services for children at risk of entering foster care. Previously, these funds could be used only for foster care itself and for adoption assistance.

In addition to prevention services, FFPSA also redefines congregate care-type settings for children who are removed from their homes and are unable to live within a family-like placement. These settings will have to meet specific criteria and will be called Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs).

Leslie Ellis-Lang is encouraged by the changes she sees within the child welfare system that address concerns expressed over many years. “FFPSA may represent the opening of a door for providers to focus on issues that occur within families and negatively affect child well-being,” she says. “This could allow the family to remain intact.”

Leslie acknowledges it is too early to predict what effects the FFPSA legislation will have, but she supports the direction of change. “The intent of FFPSA is to redirect funding to maintain the stability of a family rather than removing children from families when safety is not actually an imminent concern. Though the current goal is not to disrupt families, the new law will provide additional means for families to receive services prior to removal. Then, should the child need to be removed, there is a stronger focus on kinship and community settings. In instances when a QRTP is in the best interest of the child, the setting must now meet specific requirements, such as standards of quality, limited duration, and aftercare services.”

“Kids being able to remain with their families, or in a family setting, and being protected and safe align with CARF’s values,” adds Leslie. “When CARF talks about prevention or intervention, we are talking about services that are proactive, striving to reduce risk factors and improve family resiliency and wellness. They are services that focus on changing the outcome for families by targeting the antecedents of identified problems. Then, if a child has to be removed, our standards address issues of follow-up, inclusion of family, and ultimately return to family or to a family-like setting.”

This access to a full suite of services is what had me thinking of my car door. Certainly investing in prevention, intervention, and diversion is best for the child, but a lack of funding closes those doors before they can be explored. We grow accustomed to options in front of us and make do. Now that FFPSA aims to open these doors, CARF is excited to see how it drives the field.