In a letter dated, January 2, 2019 the Children’s Bureau informed state child welfare directors that all programs and services will be rated using the Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook of Standards and Procedures in the beginning of May 2019. Release of the ratings will indicate if programs and services are rated as “promising,” “supported,” “well-supported,” or “does not currently meet criteria.”

Much of the three-page letter describes some of the challenges the Bureau has had in the months since the February 2018 law was adopted. Those challenges include classifying and evaluating programs according to the evidence-based standards written into the Family First Act (FFA).

As part of the process, in early April the Children’s Bureau will release the Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook of Standards and Procedures, which will include (1) procedures for identifying programs and services and associated research studies for review or rereview, (2) standards for assessing the design, execution, and findings of research studies and rating programs and services, and (3) definitions of key terms. That release will be followed by a mid-April webinar.

The HHS Clearinghouse was awarded a contract in September 2018. Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner says in his letter that the Bureau’s goal “has been, and remains, to review and rate as many services and programs as quickly as possible through the Clearinghouse to support states’ efforts to improve outcomes for children and families through implementation of FFPSA.” But he also highlights some of the differences between what other evaluators of evidence-based practices examine and what is in the law under the FFA requires.

Some examples:

• “California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) uses a peer-review process to rate and review studies of programs and services, the [HHS] Clearinghouse is required to conduct an independent, systematic evidence review that some of the programs and services may not achieve the same ratings found in CEBC.

• The rating criteria and outcome domains identified in FFPSA do not directly align with the criteria established by HHS for evidence-based home visiting models in HomVEE. For example, in accordance with the statutory requirement of FFPSA, the Clearinghouse includes criteria for sustained effects based on length of time after the end of treatment, while HomVEE includes criteria for sustained effects based on length of time after enrollment.”

States will have the option to begin services on October 1 of this year but for many states, legislatures are beginning part-time sessions now that will wrap up by early April and so any budgeting decisions may have to included estimates of what the new services could/would/may cost.