About the law

The Family First Prevention and Services Act (Family First) was signed into law in February 2018. Family First provides historic funding reforms in our nation’s child welfare system and is focused on keeping families intact. This is accomplished by reducing the number of children in foster care and building more family-based environments for children who cannot safely remain in their home.

Under Family First, states will receive more federal funding for preventive programs, such as trauma-informed mental health services, substance use treatment and in-home parenting skills training, that help families at-risk of entering the child welfare system build safe, loving and supportive homes where their children can grow and thrive.

Additionally, Family First will change the foster care landscape by putting more emphasis on keeping children in home-based environments whenever possible. When a child cannot safely remain in their home, every effort will be made to place a child with a relative or like-kin caregiver. When that is not possible, the next preference is to place children with foster families.

Lastly, Family First is reducing the use of group care settings, such as group homes and residential care centers, by narrowing the use to children and youth who require a high level of care due to certain medical needs. The law also requires states to establish new group facilities called Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP) to provide such care.

Funding

Title IV-E of the Social Security Act is the major source of federal funding that supports state and local child welfare programs. Family First does not provide any additional funding; instead, it shifts existing resources and attention to prevention services to address child and family needs so that the need for future engagement in the child welfare system is avoided.

When Family First is implemented in Wisconsin – no later than October 1, 2021 – states will receive a federal match on state dollars spent on eligible prevention services and residential facilities will only be reimbursed when a setting has been validated as a Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTP).

As Wisconsin begins to invest more state dollars in serving children in home with evidence-based practices, Family First will be the mechanism by which Wisconsin will be able to reinvest federal dollars into the child welfare system.

Timeline

Like most states, Wisconsin elected to take a two-year delay option to allow for planning and feedback. This means the changes in which group settings are reimbursable and the ability to claim on state prevention programs takes effect in October 2021.

Wisconsin received $8.7 million in federal funding to assist in Family First implementation and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is currently prioritizing the most critical areas to invest resources in. This flexible funding must be used between October 1, 2019, and September 30, 2021.

The next steps for DCF include identifying specific implementation phases necessary to transform our child welfare system and comply with Family First requirements. Those include administrative rule changes, understanding and supporting development of Qualified Residential Treatment Program settings, additional research related to state spending and federal reimbursements, and data trends that will affect Wisconsin’s implementation. 

DCF will continue to involve stakeholders in the development of ideas and request input on key decisions and options that are being considered. Existing work groups, committees and advisory groups will be used for gathering input and feedback using multiple channels.