Texas has moved one step closer to creating a state plan that leverages federal funding to prioritize prevention and family preservation.
In February 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) which makes available a federal match for state investments in evidence-based and trauma informed supports to families at risk BEFORE a removal occurs. These services address the core drivers of child abuse and neglect including substance use, mental health, and parenting challenges. However, in order to successfully leverage this opportunity, state leaders have a number of crucial decisions to make.
Last legislative session, TexProtects championed Senate Bill 355 authored by Senator West which required the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop a strategic plan outlining how they intend to implement the provisions of FFPSA. That plan was released earlier this week.
DFPS’ strategic plan highlights the alignments between the goals of the Department and the goals of FFPSA and offers information and implementation options to support the budgetary decisions in the 87th legislative session that will largely determine the scope of FFPSA’s transformational potential. We applaud the prioritization of prevention and support of kinship caregivers in the state’s plan; however, the plan leaves many critical questions unanswered and may not do enough to target populations at risk of entering foster care.
For a quick overview of the top three items of good news in the plan and the top three areas of concern – see below.
First the good news:
- DFPS was awarded $50.3 million in Family First Transition Act funds to help implement the provisions of FFPSA and they intend to utilize $33.9 million of those dollars on prevention. They will be spending the rest of the funds on a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) pilot and on IT changes.
- DFPS is investing in efforts to better serve informal kinship placements who don’t have as many supports. To ensure caregivers in informal kinship placements know what is available and can be better linked to services, DFPS has issued grants to four providers to complete needs assessments, evaluations, and pilots to support the development of a kinship navigator program. DFPS has also invested in training for 2-1-1 staff on the needs of kinship caregivers they plan to create a marketing campaign designed to ensure kinship caregivers are aware of the resources available to them through 2-1-1.
- The DFPS plan includes seven options for expanding prevention services, each with varying degrees of complexity and cost. Approximately half of these options capitalize on and expand the innovative and effective community networks that have been built through the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division of DFPS. This is a smart solution that will enable Texas to quickly build on existing infrastructure to better support families.
Areas of concern within the DFPS plan include the following:
- The state stands to lose $26 million in Title IV-E eligible dollars per year unless there are increased placements available in family-like settings or a QRTP. This will need to be accounted for somewhere in the budget but must not be taken from children and families who are already receiving effective prevention services.
- 43% of families who have had an open Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) case have another case of child maltreatment within five years of completing services. DFPS’ definition of who is eligible for prevention services includes families participating in FBSS. While the children and families served by this stage of service naturally and most closely fit the broad federal eligibility criteria of children who are at imminent risk of entering foster care, DFPS acknowledged in this plan that many of the provided services are not evidence-based and do not meet the FFPSA standards. To use this funding as intended will require a significant shift in mentality and accountability for the quality and outcomes of services offered to families in FBSS.
- DFPS can define who is eligible for prevention services; however, their suggested definition only captures families who are already engaging with the system. Their definition includes families with an open FBSS case, children who have already been in care but are now are at risk of placement disruption or re-entry, and pregnant and parenting youth in Child Protective Services (CPS) custody. There is room for improvement here to consider other populations at risk as well as more upstream options that support families BEFORE they have an open case and CPS involvement.
Now, it is up to lawmakers to decide the best way to move forward, and the potential impact on children and families will largely be decided on their willingness to prioritize prevention and family preservation. Be on the lookout for the release of our FFPSA Brief that will outline this federal legislation and the Texas plan in more detail later this month.