Their Voice: Appreciating the Family First Prevention Services Act

September 2, 2018

Monica Villar

Last week, I introduced the recently signed federal legislation passed in February called the “Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).”

FFPSA creates provisions for states, electing to participate, to provide up front services for children who are considered candidates for foster care. It also includes services for kinship caregiver services and pregnant or parenting youth. It should come as no surprise that a state that prides itself in its focus on family would be willing to participate in a program that supports families in crisis.

Despite the cultural focus on family in Utah, we are not immune to the reality of families in crisis and children in the foster care system. According to “Utah Children 2017—Utah’s Children at a Glance,” in 2015, 2,704 children in Utah lived apart from their families in out-of-home care. Of that number, almost 900 were 5 years old or younger and about 750 were 16 or older. With the current system, services cannot be provided to the child until they are removed from the home and placed in foster care.

According to Cosette Mills, federal revenue manager with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services “FFPSA is groundbreaking legislation that changes federal investment in families,” adding “This is recognition of the commitment on the part of Congress to support children and families that are struggling.” Mills noted that our own Sen. Orrin Hatch was one of the sponsors of this bill.

The three categories of support that will be available to families in crisis are mental health services, substance use disorder treatment and prevention and in home parent skills training. It will be the decision of the Division of Child and Family Services whether the risk to the child is great enough to remove from the home. If this is the case, the goal will be to shorten the time in foster care and reduce the number of children who are being placed in residential facilities opting instead for family based foster care. Once the child is returned to the home, services will continue to ensure a successful long term outcome.

Another hopeful result of this act will create stronger foster families who have a more collaborative role in working with natural families for the good of the child.

Mills also points out that although the federal date for implementation is October 2019, there is still a lot of work to be done on a federal and state level. For example, the legislation mandates that any services provided with these funds are evidence based. This means that a clearinghouse will have to be created and a review of researched based programs to make the determination of what will be approved. It very likely will take several years to fully recognize the potential of this act.

Anyone who works in human services, educational, medical fields that has seen the devastation to families and long-term ramifications of foster care to children should applaud the efforts of Hatch and everyone else involved in the creation and passing of this act. It is further evidence that “it does take a village to raise a child” and what a better village we will create.

On another note, many of us who have lived in the Utah Valley for a long time know some of the history of what was then the Utah State Training School, now called the Utah State Developmental Center.

A special gala is being held at the American Fork Library from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The presentation will focus on the history of the training center including photographs and digitized videos from the 1930s and 1940s. All are invited to attend to see some of this interesting history. There will also be activities for children.

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