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With Federal Support, PA Focuses on Keeping Kids Out of Foster Care

by Emily Scott, Keystone State News Connection

Oct 04, 2021
Diverse children enjoying playing with toys

Pennsylvania implements a new, evidence-based prevention plan on Friday, to help kids at risk of out-of-home placement stay with family when possible.

The Family First Prevention Services Act, passed by Congress in 2018, moves funds away from foster care and group-home settings to focus instead on keeping families together. It requires states, including Pennsylvania, to submit a five-year plan, known as Title IV-E, in order to receive reimbursement for their prevention work.

Terry Clark, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services, said the approach is a way to help children grow up in their communities without being uprooted.

“It’s of course looking at trying to be able to help families be stronger,” Clark explained. “Strengthen those families by providing all kinds of proactive support, so that the likelihood that they’re going to be abused or neglected is really reduced. And then, of course, you don’t have to separate them from their family.”

Some evidence-based programs selected for Title IV-E include Functional Family Therapy and the Nurse-Family Partnership. The plan also includes reimbursement for kinship navigator programs, to help relatives raising children in need to access resources as they take on guardianship.

Rachael Miller, policy director at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said Family First has seen some unintended consequences, including limiting the programs eligible for funding. She hopes the law will allow the state to include services in non-abuse categories that sometimes lead to child-welfare placement, such as poverty.

“The law does not currently allow for federal reimbursement for programs that show promising results but might not meet the rigor of evidence-based review,” Miller pointed out. “So, expanding these types of services to be allowable for reimbursement would be beneficial for children and families that we’re serving.”

Pennsylvania’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families submitted its plans to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August, and will implement them for the first time on Oct. 1.

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