BISMARCK — North Dakota met an Oct. 1 deadline to submit a plan for preventive services aimed at keeping children out of foster homes, becoming one of just 11 states to meet an early deadline under a federal law passed last year.
It's the latest hoop for states to jump through to receive funding as part of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, an extensive overhaul of child welfare systems across the country.
Funding for such services involves complicated streams of money from many sources, but most comes from the federal government. The largest federal source is Title IV-E funds.
For example: North Dakota spent more than $69 million on child welfare services in 2016, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Of that amount, about $47 million came from federal sources, and about $20 million of that was Title IV-E money.
That money previously could be used only to help with the costs of foster care, administrative expenses, training for staff, foster parents, adoption and kinship guardianship assistance.
Now, states with an approved Title IV-E prevention plan have the option to use the funds for services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling that could allow children at risk of entering foster care to stay with their parents or relatives.
"They took the Title IV-E dollars, and they tapped into that and said, 'Why don't we allow states to take some of this money and move it to front-end preventative services?'" said Kelsey Bless, permanency administrator for the state Division of Children and Family Services. "Then we don't have to have families get deeper into the system in order to benefit."
North Dakota can begin to receive funding for preventive services once its plan is approved by the U.S. Children's Bureau.
State lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation dealing with the Family First Act. State officials have spent 1 ½ years holding monthly meetings and training service providers, public agencies and other partners on complying with the new federal law.
Hitting the deadline was a major effort because many of the groups involved with administering child welfare services must also update procedures and practices to comply with the conditions of the federal act, according to Bless. Those groups include law enforcement, county social services, placement and service providers, tribal officials, juvenile court administrators and members of various divisions within the Department of Human Services.
"Not only was it a monumental shift in how we can accommodate dollars and support children and families, it also was a testament to our state and our ability to offer some collaborative services and partner within our own agencies," Bless said.