Social safety net packages aimed at decreasing child poverty could lead to far fewer children and families being investigated by child welfare systems — especially in communities of color — a new study has concluded.
The National Academies of Science assembled a proposal offering a series of anti-poverty packages of varying generosity. A group of child welfare researchers conducted simulations to estimate the impact each package could have on abuse and neglect investigations.
The study estimates that between 386,000 to 669,000 fewer children would be subject to these investigations each year, depending on the generosity of the package.
“The nontrivial improvements in child safety accruing from any of the three policy packages should be considered in the calculus of policy implementation,” study authors wrote.
The researchers found that the policy packages on average could reduce CPS investigations by up to roughly 20%, with an outsize reduction seen among Black families, who are vastly overrepresented among families investigated and separated by child welfare. The study estimated a reduction in investigations of up to 29% for these families, compared to 7-13% for white families. Hispanic families would also see a decrease twice as large as white families. The proposals also have higher impact in single-parent households and children of parents with lower academic attainment.
The study notes that existing evidence indicates that “low income, poverty, and community disadvantage” are the strongest and most consistent predictors of child welfare involvement in not just the U.S., but all wealthy countries. Redistributing wealth via the proposed welfare packages has the potential to make a significant dent in the long-standing racial disparities plaguing child welfare systems, they write.
“If systemic racism leading to poverty is the dominant pathway through which racial disproportionality in CPS involvement manifests, then decreased poverty should result in reduced disproportionality in CPS systems consistent with the magnitudes we estimate,” the study states. “In contrast, if racial bias is the primary driver, then such effects may be smaller.”
The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Casey Family Programs, tested three anti-poverty packages that represented a combination of universal support along with work- and means-tested programs.
One package suggested expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC), along with offering a universal child allowance of $166 per month for all children under age 17. Researchers found this package would reduce child poverty by 35.6%, at a cost of $44.5 billion.
The second package included the same expansions of the EITC and CDCTC, and coupled those changes with expansions to the nation’s food stamp program and the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program which provides rent support to low-income families. This package would reduce child poverty by 50.7 percent at an annual cost of $90.7 billion.
The final package included in the child welfare researchers’ study would also expand the EITC and CDCTC, plus increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.25 and providing a monthly universal child allowance for families making less than 400% of the poverty level. It would also offer a guaranteed $100 child support payment to single parents and make some welfare programs newly available to undocumented immigrants. This package creates the greatest reduction in child poverty, cutting it by 52.3% at an annual cost of $108.8 billion.
The child welfare researchers simulated the impact these packages would have on CPS investigations by using an array of data on the impact existing prior tax credits and welfare packages have had.
Researchers noted that such large welfare packages would have seemed unlikely to be enacted prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but that they mirror some of the temporary support offered in the American Rescue Plan Act. They stated that their study results “provide novel insight into the potential benefits” of continuing and expanding such measures.