Pennsylvania continues to be committed to the reduction of children and youth placed in congregate care settings. However, there are specific circumstances where a congregate care setting is the most appropriate and least restrictive placement to ensure the safety and treatment needs of the child/youth.

The Family First Prevention Services Act introduced a funding limitation on congregate care. The limitation encourages states to place children in the least-restrictive, most family-like settings whenever safely possible. The funds are shifted from costly congregate care placements and into prevention services that may allow children to stay safely in their home.  If a child is best served in a congregate care facility, the act allows funding for placements in specialized settings. A specialized setting is an enhanced congregate care setting that meets the need of:

  • Children at risk, or victims, of sex trafficking,
  • Pregnant, expecting and parenting youth, or
  • Young adults (18-21 years old) transitioning to adulthood. 

Becoming a Specialized Setting is voluntary. Providers who become certified must meet enhanced standards that are directed at providing the best possible care for children/youth in the populations identified. The enhanced standards are outlined in the Specialized Setting Bulletin. OCYF certified the first round of Specialized Settings for Child Residential facilities in July 2020 and will continue to add more providers annually.

While Pennsylvania developed standards and a certification processes for becoming a specialized setting, that does not guarantee youth in the identified populations will be placed in those settings.  The placement decision for a child who has been determined to need out-of-home care continues to be made at the county level (county agency and Juvenile Court).  Family First does not impact a child being placed in the least restrictive setting that can meet the child's safety and treatment needs.