Passed into law nearly two years ago, the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) has significant implications for child welfare and family support policy and practice in the U.S. The federal finance shifts affect provisions for out-of-home care and family preservation, and the new focus on prevention and expanded intervention will substantially change service delivery models at state and local agencies. 

In the fall of 2019, the first group of states began their transition to implementation and compliance with the new FFPSA rules and regulations. This legislation presents an opportunity for community-based organizations to be innovative, expand prevention service offerings to the families they serve, and to think creatively about how to address the challenges in their communities.

But the complex law can also be confusing, and communication is key to navigating this major shift in the field. At the recent 2020 Senior Leadership Conference, a special panel of several Alliance members from early implementation states came together to share their bright spots and challenges, offering guidance for leaders in the states that follow. The interactive conference session gave participants the opportunity to share ideas with one another, and to learn about implementation strategies from Ilana Levinson, Alliance senior director of government relations, and consultants Jody Grutza of Grutza Consulting and Marlo Nash of Saint Francis Ministries.

Technical assistance and consultation to child welfare provider organizations can be beneficial to many organizations, as private system leaders are working with their public sector partners to swiftly and effectively address myriad changes and opportunities to successfully align with FFPSA requirements. Grutza and Saint Francis work together to equip stakeholders with the information and support to manage the complex challenges in support of technical implementation. They have identified five key actions community-based organizations can take to strengthen and accelerate implementation efforts.

Key Actions to Strengthen and Accelerate Implementation Efforts

Keep Meaningful Results at the Center

  • Base your engagement with stakeholders on the results children and families need to be safe, healthy and well.
  • Seek out evidence-based practices that are results oriented and determine how you can potentially implement them within your organization.
  • Always track your data regardless of the service you are providing.

Work to Integrate Systems

  • Think of FFPSA as an “energy center” for focusing on implementing what is in the law, but also for seizing windows of opportunity that FFPSA implementation processes and conversations are offering up, such as:
    • Doing more with multi-generational family-based approaches
    • Thinking about how to leverage the FFPSA-built infrastructure for delivering evidence-based practices to populations beyond those who are eligible for FFPSA
    • Serving children and families further upstream before the child welfare system is engaged 
    • Connecting public leaders across agencies for shared learning and planning

Align Your Organization With the Future State

  • Align your work to the state’s values and goals. Find out if your state agency has a set of guiding principles for systems design that they are following and if they have a directive from the Governor that is directly or indirectly related to FFPSA implementation. Crosswalk your organization’s vision, mission, goals, guiding principles, etc. with those of the state agency.
  • Remain open to transforming your organization within the provisions of FFPSA.
  • Engage in strategic thinking and planning with your leadership team around how you keep your footprint in your community while transitioning into evidence based and best practices aligned with FFPSA.
  • Prepare to articulate, to the state agency and other decisionmakers (e.g. elected officials, community foundations, donors) the cost of optimal implementation of FFPSA for your organization.

Be a Partner in Leading Change

  • Be a champion within the state efforts and be proactive in engaging with the public child welfare agency as a supportive partner. Do not wait for them to come to you.
  • Learn how your state is approaching FFPSA implementation. For example, in Virginia they are using the Three Branch Model. In Iowa & Oklahoma, there are multi-sector leadership efforts.
  • Determine your critical value-add to the discussion, including bringing ideas for solutions to challenges. For example, draft proposed definitions and parameters for concepts in the FFPSA law like “after care supports” and “family engagement”, that are up to a state to define. Another example is being a voice for a data-informed roll out of the FFPSA like Saint Francis did for Kansas.

Share Information and Use Framing Science

  • Effectively communicate the role that providers and community based organizations play in a successful FFPSA implementation.
  • Use framing science and the “Constructing Well-Being” frame to describe the work that you do. 
  • Avoid catch phrases like “three hots and a cot” and “we’re a X# bed facility” and use descriptive terms for the substantive work you do that improves outcomes for children who need treatment.
  • Meet with the elected officials at all levels of government who represent your jurisdiction to share information about FFPSA provisions, how your organization is aligning with implementation efforts and what is needed going forward. Saint Francis has framed communications tools to assist you with this.
  • Advocate with your congressional delegation for the Family First Transition Act, a solution to the interplay between the Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) designation and the IMD Exclusion, and the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

Additional FFPSA Resources

The Alliance provides support to community-based organizations through an integrated set of levers to meet one of the primary goals of FFPSA: increasing prevention and treatment efforts that keep children and families together whenever possible and in their homes and communities. These levers include public policy and advocacy, research and education, and strategic partnerships across sectors to strengthen the organizations that are working with families throughout the United States.

Education Series
The Alliance is also offering the Family First Implementation Series of webinars to help staff at community-based organizations understand the implications—and new opportunities—to implementing these public policies in their work and develop effective planning strategies and operational readiness. Register for one or all three webinars:

Practical Research Topics
The Alliance Library has researched critically important aspects of implementing FFPSA and created a specially curated collection of topics, including the strategic focus areas of data and evaluation, funding and reimbursement, and stakeholder engagement. Additional resources focus on operational programmatic topics such as foster home recruitment and retention and qualified residential treatment programs.

Data and Evaluation

Funding and Reimbursement

Stakeholder Engagement

Foster Home Recruitment and Retention

Qualified Residential Treatment Programs

Want to know more? Contact:

Ilana Levinson, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
Jody Grutza, Grutza Consulting, 734-306-8698
Marlo Nash, Saint Francis Ministries, 202-431-3532