In February 2018, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, which enacted the Family First Prevention Services Act. The legislation turns the focus of the child welfare system toward keeping children with a need for behavioral services safely at home with their families.
The goal of the legislation is to help avoid the trauma that can result when children are placed in out-of-home care. As part of the law, a Prevention Services Clearinghouse was created, which consists of a continually updated list of evaluated and tested prevention services and programs that can be used by local government units to prevent family disruption.
The Family First act gives states, counties and tribal welfare agencies the ability to receive 50% federal Title IV-E reimbursement funds for the services and programs in the clearinghouse list. On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Beltrami County Health and Human Services Director Becky Secore and Human Services Division Director Jeffrey Lind informed the Board of Commissioners that Minnesota began applying the law in September.
According to Secore and Lind, the goal of the new legislation is a positive one.
“The idea of keeping kids in their own home and providing community services is absolutely the way we always want to serve them,” Lind told the Pioneer. “There is trauma in removing kids from their homes, so we always want to serve them in their homes when we can.”
The issue, though, is some of the programs and services listed in the clearinghouse aren’t available to all government units.
“The state of Minnesota had to put a prevention plan forward, saying out of those evidence-based models, here are the ones we’re going to start out with,” Secore said. “Right now, they have one that’s being touted and two more in the works. The problem is, all three of them aren’t available in our area.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ website, the types of services include:
- Mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services provided by a qualified clinician.
- In-home parent skill-based programs that include parenting skills training, parent education and family counseling.
- Kinship navigator programs help caregivers access programs and services to address their needs and the needs of children in their care in a way that is meaningful for their families.
“The placement part is also a challenge,” Lind said. “Some of the programs we used to use, or that we still use, that have been funded by Title IV-E are no longer going to be funded under that model. So the services will still be necessary and available, but we will not be able to get the reimbursement from Title IV-E.”
Secore said the services reimbursable for federal funding through Title IV-E are often ones provided by partners in the community.
“Those partners may be a special-education program or a mental health provider,” Secore said. “Right now, we don’t have the people, training or model available. If we were to place a child tomorrow, because we don’t have the prevention services, and because we don’t have qualified residential treatment program assessments, we don’t have any opportunity to capture the funds that we’re used to capturing.”
The assessments come into the equation because the type of placements in question are related to behavioral health, Lind said.
“There’s a difference between child protection placements and some of the placements we’re talking about right now,” Lind said. “Some of what we’re talking about now are kids who need placements in higher-end facilities because of behavior they’re exhibiting. A lot of it has to do with the behavioral needs.”
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Moving forward, Secore said it may be an issue that needs to be handled at the state level for some communities.
“Some of the services are available in different locations in the state, but a lot of rural counties don’t have the capacity to build them, and especially not the ability to build them fast. I think there will be an opportunity both for local officials and for some of our statewide systems to be reaching out to our legislators to ask for not only start-up funds, but some funds to keep those programs sustained while they’re being built.”