New Law

New Law: The Family First Prevention Services Act

Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) in 2018. The new law makes dramatic changes to federal financing of child welfare starting on October 1st, 2019. Family First emphasizes the importance of children growing up in families by opening up new avenues of funding for prevention services to keep children out of foster care and placing new requirements on child welfare agencies and courts to reduce unnecessary congregate care placements.


The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) was signed into law as part of the federal budget continuing resolution legislation (Public Law 115-123) on February 9th, 2018. Among many provisions affecting child welfare funding and practice, two major FFPSA provisions promise to further the goal of ensuring that children grow up nurtured by family. Courts will play a critical role in ensuring the FFPSA’s success.

The first major systemic change furthered by the FFPSA relates to the front-end of the child welfare system. The Act for the first time allows Title IV-E (of the Social Security Act) entitlement funding to be used for services to keep children with their families, and to prevent the need for foster care. Previously, IV-E funds (the largest source of federal child welfare resources) could only be used to provide out-of-home care and for child welfare administrative costs. For courts, this aspect of the FFPSA calls into play both (a) the juvenile court judge’s position as a child welfare leader and convener in the community,[1] and (b) the court’s systemic oversight responsibility embodied in the legal mandate that the court make findings that reasonable efforts were made to prevent a child from requiring out-of-home care.

Secondly, the FFPSA places new restrictions on the use of non-family residential placements, and gives the court new approval oversight roles when such placements are recommended. Prior federal law did not assign a detailed role to the court in reviewing specific levels of non-kin placements. The FFPSA defines a new type of residential care, the Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP), and assigns the court substantial responsibilities in approving and overseeing placements in QRTPs.

Overall, the FFPSA is an attempt to shift federal child welfare funding upstream from primarily supporting out-of-home placement, to services designed to keep children with family and prevent the need for foster care. States therefore may not access the prevention services funding without also implementing the restrictions on placements. The earliest a state can implement these IV-E funding provisions is October 1st, 2019. States may “opt in” any time thereafter, but no later than October 1, 2021.

[1] See Gatowski, S., Miller, N., Rubin, S., Escher, . & Maze, C. (2016) Enhanced Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges)


Introduced Legislation

As of ____, 2019, legislation has been introduced to assist states in the transition to FFPSA implementation, including increasing funding to state courts for the Court Improvement Program (CIP) in light of the substantial new and ongoing court responsibilities.


Selected References on the FFPSA

  1. Website: FamilyFirstAct.Org – Information about the law and updates on implementation. Administered by FosterClub with support from Casey Family Programs.
  2. NCSC Issue Brief: Family First Prevention Services Act (2018).
  3. Family First resources for kinship placements collected on the site, a collaboration of Casey Family Programs, The ABA Center on Children and the Law, and Generations United.
  4. Family First Act summaries and other materials from Children’s Defense Fund.
  5. A Complete Guide to the Family First Prevention Services Act (3 parts), Chronicle of Social Change (2018)