Associations Between State TANF Policies, Child Protective Services Involvement, And Foster Care Placement

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which was established in 1996 and renewed in 2005, constituted a major reform of the US welfare system. Since its renewal, few studies have examined its effects on children. We used instrumental variables, two-way fixed effects, and event studies to examine the associations between state-level TANF policies, Child Protective Services involvement, and foster care placement during the period 2004–16. We found that each additional TANF policy that restricted access to benefits was associated with a 13 percent reduction in TANF caseloads. Using TANF policies as an instrument, we found that increases in TANF caseloads were associated with significant reductions in numbers of neglect victims and foster care placements. In two-way fixed effects models, restrictions on TANF access were associated with more than forty-four additional neglect victims per 100,000 child population and between nineteen and twenty-two additional children per 100,000 placed in foster care. Our findings suggest that additional research using data that capture the nuances of maltreatment should be used to investigate the relationships among TANF policies, child maltreatment, and foster care placement.

Authors: Donna K. Ginther and Michelle Johnson-Motoyama

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