Child Welfare

Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act

October 4, 2019 | National

In February 2018, after many years of attempts, the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 was signed into law. Family First contains several ambitious reforms to existing child welfare law. Among other things, it affirms that every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable and nurturing family and that children should only be placed in group homes or congregate care facilities when they need a level of care that cannot be achieved in foster family care. For those children and youth who need that extra support, it strengthens the requirements for non-family placements and ensures that they do not remain there any longer than is necessary. For the first time, Family First allows states and tribes to use federal dollars not only for services for kids in foster care, but for evidence-based services and programs that keep kids safe in their homes and prevent them from needing to enter foster care in the first place.

Implemented properly, this landmark law has the potential to change the face of child welfare as we know it. But like any transformational legislation, Family First is complicated and implementing it will bring up countless challenges and questions. For months now, Children’s Defense Fund, along with our partners at ChildFocus, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Generations United, FosterClub, Juvenile Law Center and the National Indian Child Welfare Association, has been digging through statute, reviewing guidance and consulting with experts to create a comprehensive Q&A-style guide to implementing Family First. We are proud today to release Implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, which we believe will be a valuable resource for the field.

The guide is comprehensive but by no means exhaustive, and we hope agencies, policymakers and other stakeholders will submit further questions as they arise. We intend this guide to be a living document and will update it as new guidance is released. If you are interested in the specifics of the Family First Prevention Service Act, check out the guide at