On August 12, 2021, Jonathan Rubin, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) within the Department of Human Services, joined PA CASA and staff members from 17 local CASA programs to share information on the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First), Public Law (P.L.) 115-123, signed into law by Congress on February 9, 2018. Family First is focused on prevention services to support children remaining in their home of origin with their families, or in the least restrictive setting when remaining in the home is not able to be safely achieved. The Family First Prevention Services Act was signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act. This act reforms the federal child welfare financing streams, Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, to provide services to families who are at risk of entering the child welfare system.
Family First aligns with CASA’s guiding principles that recognize the importance of family preservation and/or reunification, and that it is in the child’s best interest to remain with their family of origin whenever safely possible.
In preparation for the October 1, 2021 implementation of Family First, Pennsylvania has developed a Five-Year Prevention Plan that will be submitted to the Federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for approval. This will include a program to identify and address challenges with implementation of Family First principles and access to prevention services. One of the ways included developing a broad definition of Candidate for Foster Care which would not require the child to have a substantiated finding of child abuse or neglect to be eligible to access and receive the services or interventions offered by Family First.
In an effort to focus on an attempt to stop maltreatment before it happens, Pennsylvania is working to develop “Prevention Services Innovation Zones.” This innovative prevention solution is unique to Pennsylvania’s Five-Year Prevention Plan; out of the 14 states with approved plans, none have proposed something similar. The Innovation Zones will provide counties the ability to meet the needs of children and families in their communities through the provision of evidence-based programs included in PA’s Prevention Plan without requiring the family to have an open case with the children and youth agency. To date, one county has provided a specific proposal that has identified a provider agency that will partner in this initiative within the county.
For children and youth who are unable to remain in their home safely or in a traditional foster care or kinship setting, Pennsylvania has developed criteria for specialized settings that will focus on providing trauma-informed care. This approach will include enhanced levels of staffing ratios, professional development, family and child engagement, physical site safety considerations, meaningful discharge/transition planning, and other specialized training for both staff and youth as needed. To date, approximately 90 licensed programs have become approved as specialized settings across the state.
Pennsylvania has chosen the following eight evidence-based practices to include in their Five-Year Prevention Plan, with the intention to add additional evidence-based services as often as needed: Functional Family Therapy, Healthy Families America, Homebuilders, Multisystemic Therapy, Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, Incredible Years – Toddler Basic and School Age Basic, Positive Parenting Program – Level 4 Standard. In addition, OCYF has requested the Effective Black Parenting Program be designated as a Promising Practice. Philadelphia County currently does all of the necessary monitoring and data collection required. Pennsylvania’s goal is that this program be approved and added to the Federal Clearinghouse so that it is approved for every state in the country.
Pennsylvania is currently building capacity to support the implementation of the Five-Year Prevention Plan and to provide the infrastructure necessary to evaluate the eight evidence-based programs. The Family First Implementation Team will assist in identifying and addressing both challenges and strategies associated with implementation of the evidence-based prevention programs. The goal is to expand the program and offer an array of prevention services in communities, making sure they are accessible to all children and families. This will lead to positive outcomes for safety, permanency, and well-being for our state’s most vulnerable children.
While in college, Ashley found her life’s calling working as a volunteer for a low-income neighborhood after-school program located in the shadow of Pennsylvania’s state capitol complex. She has since spent her entire career in the human service field, working with children and youth in the nonprofit sector.
Graduating from Messiah College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, Ashley worked as a foster care caseworker for two years. It was there that she discovered how resilient children and youth placed in foster care are when educated, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. This experience inspired Ashley to study human science, exploring human phenomena from a critical, cross-cultural, and transdisciplinary perspective.
In 2015, Ashley earned a master’s degree in Human Science from Saybrook University. She then helped establish CASA of Berks County, where she served as executive director for three years.
In 2018, Ashley transitioned to PA CASA as Partnership Director, stating, “I am fortunate to join a talented team of individuals and the remarkable network of local CASA programs. And, I’m excited to continue to have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of abused and neglected children across the Commonwealth.”
Ashley’s passion for her work is reinforced daily, as she observes the power demonstrated when both human kindness and compassion are extended to one another.
Ashley currently resides in Phoenixville, PA, in a (nearly) 700 square foot apartment with her boyfriend, Michael, who you may hear in the background if you are on a call or meeting with her. In her free time, Ashley enjoys visiting Valley Forge National Park for evening walks and runs, finding new spots to hike, practicing yoga, and following her passion for indoor and outdoor cycling. Ashley also enjoys making clay jewelry and experimenting with new crocheting, knitting, and rug punching patterns.