Young people involved in the child welfare system do best in families.

Family First Prevention Services Act

Signed into law on February 9, 2018, as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act (HR. 1892), Family First includes long-overdue historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care. In passing
the law, Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment or improved parenting skills. 

Nearly half a million children are currently in foster care. After years of decline in numbers of children in foster care, the number has risen steadily since 2012, with anecdotal evidence and expert opinion linking this increase to the parallel rise in opioid addiction and overdoses. Family First provides struggling and overburdened child welfare agencies with the tools needed to help children and families in crisis, including families struggling with the opioid epidemic. 

Young people involved in the child welfare system do best in families, in a safe and stable environment that supports their long-term well-being, according to research. The passage of Family First took a large step toward this vision by restructuring how the federal government spends money on child welfare to ensure that more children in foster care are placed with families. The law also provides more support for critical services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, in-home training and family therapy that can help prevent the need for foster care in the first place.

*     *     *

The Family First Prevention Services Act (as part of Division E in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892):

  • Supports preventions services. The law gives states and tribes the ability to target their existing federal resources into an array of prevention and early intervention services to keep children safe, strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care whenever it is safe to do so.
  • Provides support for kinship (relative) caregivers. Provides federal funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a broad range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them, and requiring states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers.
  • Establishes requirements for placement in residential treatment programs and improves quality and oversight of services. Allows federal reimbursement for care in certain residential treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral disturbance requiring special treatment 
  • Improves services to older youth. Allows states to offer services to youth who have aged out of foster care up to age 23, along with adding flexibility to the Education & Training Voucher (ETV) program.


Learn more about the the Family First Prevention Services Act:

Full text of legislation (Social Security Act language amended with Family First provisions)


Read the thank-you letters submitted by national advocates to members of Congress for their support in the passage of the historical legislation:

Letter to the Senate

Letter to the House

Article: The Key Players Behind Washington’s Biggest Foster Care Reform in Decades

“We know that federal policy shouldn’t create an incentive to rip these families apart. It should create incentives to keep families together.”

— Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon

The Family First Act provides a historic opportunity for stakeholders to re-envision the child welfare system and how it serves children and families.

Family First Implementation Timeline

​​​​​​​The Children's Defense Fund produced a timeline relating to the various provisions of implementation of the Family First Act. Click on each item to expand. Download the PDF from Children's Defense Fund here > ​​​​​​​