A potential long-term result of the current debate on the Families First Prevention Services Act is the pitting of the need for front end prevention of child maltreatment against the need for intervention services that prevent foster care.  In reality true comprehensive reform of the nation’s child welfare systems requires both of these vastly underfunded services as part of a continuum.

Some of the recent opposition to the Families First Act has criticized the bill because it includes intervention services that could prevent foster care placements but does not provide prevention funding.

CWLA views the Families First Act as providing an important part of the child welfare continuum, intervention services that can prevent placement into out-of-home-care/foster care.  In fact, the new report by an Oregon advisory committee referenced in the previous article highlights the need for a continuum of services.  Under the Families First Act prevention of foster care services would be available to birth parents, kin parents caring for relative children, families that have just been reunified or adoptive families who may face the need for post-adoption services years after the adoption was finalized.

CWLA sees prevention of child maltreatment or child abuse as another separate and critically important part of that continuum.  Both prevention and intervention are vastly underfunded and all too often some advocates play one of these two key parts of the continuum off the other.

CWLA highlighted this need in our April Summit:  Investing in What It takes: A Full Continuum of Care. As we noted in that gathering:

“we need NEW investments in children starting with preventing child abuse, preventing foster care when possible and providing the best care when necessary, and ensuring permanency and safety for all children through reunification, kinship care and adoption.”

The Families First Act, if effectively implemented, would provide critical intervention services for mental health and substance use and in home services that have been frequently lacking.  The fact that mental health and substance use treatment services could be available through Medicaid does not mean they are available.  Coordination and cooperation between Medicaid and child welfare have been a challenge to say the very least.  The Families First bill would provide a new avenue for these services to address substance abuse and mental health treatment needs that by some estimates are a part of anywhere from 30 to more than 60 percent of child welfare and foster care placements.

We see prevention of child abuse as an equally important component of the child welfare continuum of care.  One of the challenges in amending Title IV-E to address true prevention is to develop an effective trigger gateway to access federal funding that would both allow funding of effective programs while not allowing access to federal funds to be used to supplant other state spending.

Prevention is critical but in addition to the challenge of developing an appropriate use of IV-E funds for prevention, too few advocates have highlighted the need for greater funding for the Child Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which is stuck at less than $26 million for all fifty states. Similarly, the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) grants which fund prevention initiatives and that leverages private and non-government funding to provide community based services to prevent child maltreatment but that funding.  CB-CAP is stuck at $39 million.

The need for more prevention also highlights CWLA support and the need for a significant increase in funding for the evidence-based home visiting (MIECHV) program when it is reauthorized in the next Administration and Congress.  Prevention also means needing to address the very serious underfunding of child care (CCDBG), and Head Start.

The need for more funding for the prevention of child abuse should not undercut support for an increase in funding for the intervention/prevention funding to reduce some foster care placements.  They are both part of the continuum of child welfare services.