Unknowns in new legislation cause concern for children and youth services

Legislation that will affect children and youth services nationwide was slipped into the bipartisan Budget Act that passed in February, said Mark Egly, director of Lycoming County Children and Youth Services.

“It was kind of a surprise,” he said. “There are more questions than answers right now.”

Egly voiced his concerns Wednesday in a public hearing for the county’s Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice needs-based plan and budget.

The Family First Prevention Services Act redirects federal funding referred to as Title IV-E, used for foster and adoption placement costs, toward preventative measures.

“Folks have been advocating for a number of years across the country, saying ‘Why don’t you allow us to use that money to prevent kids from going into care in the first place?’ “ Egly said. “So that’s a positive. I’m just concerned … We need to understand more about the legislation, and Pennsylvania needs to make a decision whether they’re going to opt in this year or next.”

The act had the element of surprise, but states can postpone opting into certain regulations until as late as 2021, including whether to reimburse for congregate care regardless of meeting requirements. However, delaying meeting that regulation also would delay funding for prevention service funding, Egly said.

State and federal governments now are going back and forth, trying to glean more information from one another on the legislation and on programming that would meet the requirements proving them to be evidence-based. Pennsylvania also has asked its counties to provide lists of eligible preventative programming, Egly said.

“It’s difficult to know what kind of impact it’s going to have on your local system until you know what programs will be eligible,” he said.

Federal reimbursements from Title IV-E still will be available for placements in individual homes. However, programming referred to as congregate care — meaning the facility is licensed to care for more than six youth at a time, must now meet stringent requirements or the county will not be eligible for reimbursement. Only the first two weeks in congregate care may be eligible, Egly said.

Requirements include having licensed nurses or clinical staff available 24/7, providing trauma-informed care, having independent assessments done to show whether a child truly needs certain services and more, he said.

“My concern is I don’t know how it’s going to impact me yet. I think the state needs time to find out which programs we’ll be able to reimburse,” Egly said. “We’re all in a ‘wait and see’ kind of mode.”