The Family First Prevention Services Act Offers Support for Children of Incarcerated Parents

Last spring, groundbreaking legislation, The Family First Prevention Services Act (“FFPSA”), was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act allowing states to use federal funding to help keep families together and avoid out of home foster care placement entirely. Specifically, the legislation changes the way that Title IV-E funds can be spent by states by allowing funds to be used for prevention services that help keep kids at home or with their relatives. Prevention services include for example, mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, in-home skill-based parenting programs, foster care maintenance payments for children with parents in residential family-based substance abuse treatment facilities, and payments for kinship navigator programs. As each family is different, changes like this will allow states to provide specific resources and tailor them to individual family’s needs in a manner they have been unable to do thus far.

Previously, states could only use these federal funds once children were placed into foster care, or rather, once there is a finding of abuse or neglect. For many families, this means months of missed opportunities to get support to help keep their families together. This is especially true for families navigating the criminal justice system and the foster care system. Our current incarceration policies have led to more parents being separated from their children at greater distances and for longer periods, while at the same time child welfare policies under that Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) have led to a shorter timeline for children to remain in foster care before terminating parental rights. The FFPSA may provide the necessary resources to support addiction and anti-poverty related services they need to prevent incarceration altogether.

Of particular importance is that the FFPSA also eliminated the previous time-limit of 15 months provided to families for reunification services, to allow families to both receive services while in foster care, as well as when the child returns home from foster care.

How will this affect families facing parental incarceration? As we touched on in our last blog, even though numbers and research are lacking in this area, the entanglement of foster care systems and the criminal justice system is clear. According to Kristin Turnery and Christopher Wildeman, 40 percent of children in foster care had been exposed to parental incarceration at some point in their lives. In a report by Creasie Finney Hairston, about two percent of fathers and ten percent of mothers indicate that they may have children in foster care, a number that is most likely underreported.  At first glance, these percentages seem low until you consider that over half of the male prison population are fathers, and since the 1980s, the number of kids with a father in prison has increased 500%. An estimated 1,559,200 children had father in prison in 2007. What is important to note is how these numbers disproportionately affect individuals and families with multiple identities such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration status. Similar to racial disproportionality in incarceration rates, parental incarceration numbers do not fall evenly across race as almost half were children of black fathers. Latinx children are two and a half times more likely to have an incarcerated parent. Further, an estimated thirty percent of incarcerated teen boys have children of their own. For LGBTQ individuals, 44% report having children of any age. Although we don’t have exact numbers of how many incarcerated immigrant fathers there are, we do know that based on Immigration Custom Enforcement’s own reports in 2012, an average of 31 children per day were placed into state care and 1,305 individuals were processed into immigrant detention centers nationwide.

As parental substance abuse and addiction is often one factor that may lead a family to enter the foster care system and prison system, in providing access to treatment earlier on, the FFPSA has potential to help reduce chances of incarceration. Prison has been an ineffective tool for many individuals struggling with addiction. Numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that more than half of state prisoners and two thirds of people in jail met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, ten to twelve times higher than the percentage of the U.S. adult population of five percent. Unfortunately, prison have failed to provide the treatment necessary. One survey showed that less than ten percent of people in prison who abused drugs get the treatment they need. Therefore, the FFPSA has potential to help reduce the chances of incarceration by helping families access early on. For families who are able to maintain parental rights despite being child welfare involved during prison, the FFPSA will allow funding to help families as they reunite with their children, providing an invaluable resource for families as they re-enter their communities after incarceration. For states like Washington and Oregon with alternative sentencing programs for parents, FFPSA can help ensure parents and children get the needed support to keep their families together.

For information on the FFSPA check out this event by Casey Families:

Riley Hewko, Esq.

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Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People's Movement Western Regional Conference

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