by Pam Shaw, MD, FAAP
(continued from Kansan Pediatrician eNewsletter, November 2018)
For the first time ever, Family First will enable states to use federal funds previously restricted to foster care placements for time-limited, evidence-based services to prevent the need for foster care in the first place. These services, available for both the child and the parent or caregiver, include mental health, substance use disorder treatment, and in-home parenting skills training. This approach would enable Kansas to keep more children safely at home, thereby improving the quality of services we provide to children who do need to enter foster care.
Family First passed with bipartisan support and the endorsement of a wide spectrum of respected child advocacy organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and its Kansas chapter. At the heart of the law is an underlying “ounce of prevention” philosophy: By funding therapeutic services for at-risk families, states can reduce the number of children who must be removed from their homes in the first place. And new rules to prioritize placing children with families will ensure that a child does not end up in an institutional setting, known as congregate care, unless that setting meets quality standards and will serve that child’s treatment needs.
But for that impact to translate to real improvement for our state, Kansas must act. States may begin receiving new federal funding for this work on October 1, 2019, but they must elect to do so, and allocate resources to meet the law’s 50 percent state matching requirement. I urge our state to take this opportunity and participate in the prevention services program that Family First has created without delay.
Family First offers Kansas an opportunity to fix a system riddled with abuse and inefficiencies that has children sleeping in offices and facing further trauma. Our state needs these resources and policy reforms to begin to address the longstanding challenges it faces in serving vulnerable children and families. As a pediatrician I know that prevention is critical to lifelong health and wellbeing. Failure is not an option.