The Evolution of Federal Child Welfare Policy through the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018: Opportunities, Barriers, and Unintended Consequences

Mark F. Testa, David Kelly - The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science


The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 affords child welfare agencies a new opportunity to fund evidence-supported interventions to prevent children’s removal into public foster care and ensure that youth in care receive appropriate treatment in the least restrictive (most family-like) setting. The new law has been generally heralded as a much-needed improvement over prior funding constraints, but there are concerns among a growing number of child welfare leaders, researchers, professional membership organizations, and advocacy groups that its focus on the families of children who are at immanent risk of removal because of maltreatment is too limiting and that overreliance on strict evidence standards may contribute to racial disparity. This article considers how child welfare agencies can best leverage the opportunities presented by Family First while addressing potential barriers posed by the paucity of evidence-supported prevention programs and avoiding the unintended consequences of limiting reimbursement to only selective prevention services that meet rigorous evidence standards of effectiveness.

This article is part of the volume The Contemporary U.S. Child Welfare System(s): Overview and Key Challenges.