Utah first state to receive federal approval of Family First Act plan

The Utah Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Family First Prevention Services Act plan, approved by the Federal Children’s Bureau will allow more children at risk of entering foster care or juvenile justice to remain safely at home. Utah is the first state and second child welfare agency (Washington D.C.) to have an approved prevention plan. 

Utah’s prevention plan outlines how the state will provide more evidence-based substance use treatment, mental health care and in-home parenting skills services to families.   

“Last year, substance use was a contributing factor in 80 percent of our foster care cases. We now have increased options to address a whole family’s needs without the condition of unnecessary parent-child separation,” said Ann Silverberg Willamson, executive director of Utah’s Department of Human Services, which served 4,570 children in foster care. “We believe families, children and youth should be served together in their homes, schools, workplaces and communities when safely possible.”

The Family First Prevention Services Act was signed into law on Feb. 9, 2018, as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892, Sens. Orrin Hatch R-Utah and Ron Wyden, D-Ore). It is the first major federal modernization of child welfare in three decades. Utah prevention plan creates the basic operational foundation for the state’s prevention of foster care through four evidence-based services. Most of these services are not currently available in Utah, so DHS is investing in provider training and certification to build service capacity in the state. 

“This is a tremendous time in child welfare,” according to Diane Moore, Utah’s director of Child and Family Services, “The principles of the Family First Act reflect the priority of family that our community already has. This strategic alignment of federal dollars with Utah’s values will enhance our work to support the children and families we serve. ”

Prevention of foster care services will also be available to youth at risk of entering the juvenile justice system. “Utah is leading the nation in a true partnership between child welfare and juvenile justice in our prevention plan to consider the needs of all youth and families,” said Brett Peterson, director of Juvenile Justice Services.