Family First Prevention Services Act

The Family First Prevention Services Act(Family First)was adopted in February 2018. Family First includes historic reforms to child welfare funding. The Act will provide federal funding for prevention services to families of children who are at imminent risk of entering foster care. It underscores the importance of children growing up in families and seeks to avoid the traumatic experience of children being separated from their families and entering foster care. Specifically, federal reimbursement will be available for trauma-informed mental health services, substance use disorder treatment and in-home parenting skills training to safely maintain in-home family placement. It also aims to improve the well-being of children already in foster care by incentivizing states to reduce placement of children in residential treatment, and instead place children in the least restrictive, most family-like setting appropriate to their individual needs.

Five Strategic Priorities

Prevention Services

Target resources and services that prevent foster care placements and help children remain safely in their homes.

Family-Based Placements

Help ensure children maintain family connections needed for healthy development and emotional well-being while finding safe, permanent homes for children as quickly as possible.

Non-Family-Based Placements

Safely reduce the inappropriate use of non-family-based placements, also known as congregate care. When a non-family based placement is needed, Family First will help ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, highest-quality setting appropriate to their individual needs.

Evidence-Based Programs

Advance the implementation and sustainability of evidence-based, trauma-informed services that appropriately and effectively improve child safety, ensure permanency, and promote child and family well-being.

Resources & Financial Accountability

Build capacity and leverage resources to provide effective services to prevent foster care placement while ensuring financial accountability.


Three Branch Model

VDSS launched the Three Branch Model in June 2018. The Three Branch Model, based upon The Three Branch Institute, is an initiative between the National Governor's Association (NGA), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Casey Family Program (CFP) and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). It is designed to bring the three branches of government together to develop an action plan to address the most pressing child welfare issues. The purpose of the Three Branch Model is to:

Family First Three Branch Model

The Three Branch Model redefines the responsibility of child welfare to all branches of government and child-serving institutions. Virginia chose to utilize this model because of previously proven success utilizing this model in partnership with the National Governor's Association in 2014 and 2017.

Drawing on past successes, Virginia is using a Three Branch model to design and implement Family First. An implementation plan which will drive the work and decision-making process was developed to support VDSS' vision for Family First.

The Three Branch model features:

  • four workgroups involving over 100 senior-level decision makers from across the state representing each branch of government (judicial, executive and legislative)
  • a Core Team made up of six leaders from the three branches of government

The four workgroups are designed around four priorities of Family First: Prevention Services, Appropriate Foster Care Placements, Evidenced-Based Services and Finance.

Our goals for our Three Branch Model include:

  • being committed to using data to improve decision making and ensure services provided are informed by outcomes
  • promoting reliable, accurate, transparent and timely two-way communication among stakeholders throughout the implementation of Family First
  • acknowledging that true transformation will take time, and implementation will continually be monitored and updated to meet emerging needs
  • collaborating and partnering with systems across the state to successfully implementation of Family First