Pennsylvania Approves First Round of Specialized Settings Providing Trauma-Informed Care Under Family First Act

Trauma-Informed Care

HARRISBURG, PA — Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller announced the first round of newly certified specialized child residential settings under the Family First Prevention Services Act, a federal law that prioritizes keeping children with their families and – when placement outside the home is necessary – directs federal funding toward family-like settings or other specialized settings best suited to meeting a child’s individual needs.

The Family First Prevention Services Act allows states to use federal payments for trauma-informed evidence-based prevention services that keep families together and help families thrive in their homes and communities using accessible services that build on strengths and address individual trauma, needs, and concerns.

In the event placement outside of the home occurs, placement consideration should also be for the least restrictive, most family-like setting to meet the child’s/youth’s safety and treatment needs. It is recognized that some populations’ treatment needs may be best met in a congregate care type living arrangement that provides the level of programming and supervision necessary for the child/youth at that time in their life. Family First has identified such population-specific specialized settings designed to serve pregnant, expecting and parenting youth; youth who are transitioning to adulthood; and youth who are, or at risk of becoming, sex trafficking victims.

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Specialized settings emphasize a trauma-informed approach to care. This approach integrates knowledge and effects of trauma into policies, procedures, and practices while actively seeking to avoid re-traumatization. Trauma-informed care is informed by six principles: organizational safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and reciprocal relationships, empowerment among and between staff and participants, and cultural sensitivity.

Standards of trauma-informed care are in line with recommendations made by the Council on Reform, established by Governor Wolf’s Vulnerable Populations Executive Order, and the Wolf Administration’s effort to make Pennsylvania a trauma-informed state. Last week, following a four-month collaboration of 25 experts from a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, the Governor’s Office of Advocacy and Reform released the “Trauma-Informed PA” plan.

In February, DHS issued a bulletin outlining new standards for specialized settings in Pennsylvania. As of July 1, 2020, four providers have achieved certification as specialized settings with 20 separate licenses – 14 supervised independent living settings and six settings for youth who are, or at risk of becoming, sex trafficking victims.

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“DHS developed these standards to ensure children and youth are provided the high-quality care and services they need to help them heal from trauma, prepare for adulthood and parenthood, and avoid future victimization,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said. “The Wolf Administration is committed to working with these providers to ensure that specialized settings are places for youth to thrive and successfully overcome difficult circumstances.”

Three providers – Bethany Home, Inc., Carson Valley Children’s Aid and Delta Family Services, LLC – operate in the southeast region, and the fourth provider, Cornell Abraxas Group, Inc., operates in the central region.

In May, the Wolf Administration announced that the United States Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families’ approved the administration’s decision to delay opting into full implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act until July 1, 2021, to give child welfare stakeholders the necessary time to implement these critical reforms.

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DHS anticipates more providers to pursue certification as specialized settings before Pennsylvania’s opt-in date of July 1, 2021. A new round of applications is due to the department’s Office of Children, Youth and Families by Nov. 30, 2020.

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