There have been a few recent indicators that both broad and targeted fiscal supports are associated with a decline in child protection activity. There was the 2017 study connecting rising minimum wages and reports of maltreatment, done by Kerri Raissian of the University of Connecticut and Lindsey Rose Bullinger of Georgia Tech. And this year, Kansas University researchers found evidence that more generous state food stamp policies corresponded with not just less reporting, but less use of foster care.
Add to this mix some new data on the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, two of the federal government’s biggest antipoverty programs. Researchers from the University of Washington studied changes in the reporting of maltreatment in the months following distributions of both credits during the tax seasons between 2015 and 2018.
Findings published in the July issue of Pediatrics show that in the four weeks following the release of these credits, “reported child maltreatment decreased by an estimated 16.8 reports per 100,000 children,” which authors said is equivalent to a 5% reduction in maltreatment reports.
“The short-term changes to child maltreatment rates that we observed after EITC and CTC refund issuance aligns with the notion that child maltreatment risk is responsive to not only chronic economic hardship among parents but also to more immediate income availability,” authors said.
The findings take on added relevance in the wake of the recent enhancements of both the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit during the COVID-19 pandemic. EITC was augmented to include some older foster youth and youth experiencing homelessness; CTC was increased to a maximum of $3,600 and “advanced” as a monthly payment instead of all at once.
There is already evidence that the advanced Child Tax Credit helped lift millions of children out of poverty from July to December of 2021. Youth Services Insider presumes that more than one researcher will look at the nexus between that unique period of monthly CTC checks and child maltreatment data in the same time frame.
“More frequent payments of benefits to families may reduce intrayear material hardship and financial stress by encouraging savings and aligning payments with the timing of critical financial events throughout the year,” the study noted.
The same team of University of Washington researchers last year studied the variability of the Earned Income Tax Credit in different states (29 states offer an additional credit on top of the federal one). They found that a 10% increase in EITC led to a 9% drop in the annual number of child neglect reports referred to child welfare agencies over a 14-year study period.