ACF Revises Handbook on Prevention Services

When Congress passed the Family First Prevention Act (FFPSA) back in 2018, many in the research community applauded provisions that allowed for the use of federal funds to provide evidence-based supports for children and families to prevent foster care placements. The Act requires an independent systematic review of evidence to designate programs and services as ‘promising’, ‘supported,’ and ‘well-supported’ practices for mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, in-home parent skill-based programs, and kinship navigator services. Accordingly, the Administration for Children & Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health & Human Services, established a Clearinghouse to review and track eligibility of programs.  Unfortunately, the initial handbook criteria excluded those evaluated with active control groups. 

Dr. Mary Dozier, University of Delaware, who has devoted her career to developing and evaluating interventions to Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) raised concerns about the criteria, educating FABBS staff about the situation. Dr. Dozier, FABBS and APA colleagues worked to communicate these concerns to relevant policymakers.   

On October 24, the ACF released a revised Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse Handbook of Standards and Procedures, Draft Version 2.0 to replace the Handbook of Standards and Procedures, Version 1.0.  The new version explicitly addresses our concerns in a footnote on page 34. ‘The term “active control group” is sometimes used in social, educational, and behavioral research to describe interventions that fall under the placebo or attention control category, whereas in medical research, it more commonly describes alternative interventions believed or known to be effective. In both cases, these types of comparison groups would be eligible for review by the Prevention Services Clearinghouse. Active control groups that receive alternative interventions believed or known to be effective would now be categorized as head-to-head comparisons for assessing risk of harm.’  

[See FABBS Comments on ACF’s Revised Handbook]