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(Aug. 23, 2019) Worcester County can help keep families together with the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 that will take effect on Oct. 1.

What the act entails was explained by Rebecca Jones-Gaston, director of Maryland Social Services, during the Maryland Association of Counties conference last Thursday

The act was signed as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. According to Jones-Gaston, a federal program authorized by the Social Security and known as Title IV-E helps pay a large portion of foster care costs and as such is the biggest funder for social services.

Currently, this funding applies to circumstances involving children already in foster care and foster care staff, but the new act restructures the finances so states can be reimbursed for programs for families who are candidates for foster care. It moves away from reimbursing states who have placed children in group care and embraces a broader spectrum of services. 

Jones-Gaston said they are still working on a list of programs the federal act will fund.

“We don’t have all the answers and that scares people,” Jones-Gaston said.

Roberta Baldwin, director for social services in Worcester County, said the act will help identify service gaps in the county and fund some programs that are already in place. This includes “trauma-informed” programs, which are based on the premise that a person’s behavior could be caused by a previous traumatic event.

“That supports the effort to support children and families heal and stay together,” Baldwin said. “It refocuses on prevention services - to prevent children from coming into foster care.”

One program Baldwin hopes to implement with the help of Family First is the Start Program, which would work with Worcester County families in which substance abuse is a primary risk factor.

“It will allow us to provide intensive in-home services to those families to help parents receive treatment services, reduce trauma and promote well-being within that family,” Baldwin said.

She hopes that overall, Family First will allow Worcester County to reduce the need to place children in foster care.

“By strengthening families, we would see a decrease in the issues that children are facing in other settings through school and the juvenile delinquent system,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin and Jones-Gaston believe that children do better in a family system, whether or not they’re related by blood.

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