Total U.S. Child Welfare Spending Drops for First Time in Decades

An across-the-board downturn in federal dollars sparked an overall decline in child welfare spending, according to research by the group Child Trends, and it did not fall by a slight percentage.

Total local federal, state and local spending, which is measured every other year by Child Trends, declined by $2.3 billion between 2010 and 2012, down from $30.5 billion to $28.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the number of youths entering foster care increased in 2013 for the first time in seven years. There were 402,378 children in foster care on Sept. 30, 2013, up from 397,000 in 2012.

Other recent research suggests that maltreatment occurrence is higher than most federal estimates. “The Prevalence of Confirmed Maltreatment Among American Children, 2004-2011” found that approximately one in 8 children, or 12.5 percent, were neglected, physically abused or sexually abused between 2004 and 2011. That is nearly 14 times higher than the annual rate reported by the Department of Health Human Services (HHS), which is less than 1 percent.

“Child maltreatment is more common than traditionally thought,” said Christopher Wildeman, lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at Yale University, in a June interview with The Imprint. “Our study found that 12.5 percent of American Children and 20 percent of African American children will experience a confirmed case of maltreatment between birth and their 18th birthday.”

Federal funding dropped between 2010 and 2012 in each of four major federal programs that supports child welfare services: Title IV-E, Title IV-B, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).

The $12.7 billion federal contribution in 2012 marks the first time in this millenium that federal spending dropped below $13 billion.

Some of that decline can be attributed to the fact that federal funding swelled somewhat in 2010 because of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the stimulus legislation signed by President Obama early in his first term.

However, “the magnitude of the decrease exceeds the contributions of ARRA, suggesting additional factors are at play,” the report said.

Advocates and politicians in Washington have picked up discussion of federal child welfare finance. Major finance reform proposals have been announced by a group of foundations and a trio of child welfare membership organizations, both of whom were in attendance at a large roundtable discussion hosted by the Senate Finance Committee this summer.

Child Welfare Funding: Trends on Different Tiers

The local, state, federal percentage shares of child welfare funds between 2002 and 2012:

$27.9 billion

  • Federal: 49.9%
  • State: 38%
  • Local: 12.1%

$27.3 billion

  • Federal: 48.1%
  • State: 39.7%
  • Local: 12.1%

$28.3 billion

  • Federal: 45.9%
  • State: 42.4%
  • Local: 11.7%

$29.6 billion

  • Federal: 43.5%
  • State: 44.8%
  • Local: 11.7%

$30.5 billion

  • Federal: 46.2%
  • State: 42.5%
  • Local: 11.2%

$28.2 billion

  • Federal: 45.2%
  • State: 38.6%
  • Local: 16.3%

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint.

Your support allows The Imprint to provide independent, nonpartisan daily news covering the issues faced by vulnerable children and families.

Subscribe or Donate

A federal grant will allow for completion of the longest control study in history on the use of professional mentors for at-risk youth #research