Jessica Pac, Sophie Collyer, Lawrence Berger, Kirk O’Brien, Elizabeth Parker, Peter Pecora, Whitney Rostad, Jane Waldfogel, and Christopher Wimer, “The Effects of Child Poverty Reductions on Child Protective Services Involvement,” Social Service Review, 2023

A baby’s hand holding a daisy, laying in an adult’s hand. Image from pxhere is licensed under pxhere license.

Child Protective Services (CPS) are meant to protect the safety and well-being of all children, however, they often end up punishing families for being poor. Many parents in poverty do not mistreat or neglect their children but are investigated by CPS because they lack the necessary resources to provide adequate care to their children. Since poor families are more likely to be under CPS surveillance, new research from Jessica Pac and colleagues examined how policy changes aimed at alleviating poverty might affect the number of CPS investigations.

In 2019, the National Academy of Sciences consensus report proposed four policy packages that they estimated would reduce child poverty by 19-52%. These packages included expansions to existing welfare policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which gives low-income families tax breaks, the Child and Dependant Care Tax Credit which helps families pay for expenses related to child care, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which helps families pay for groceries. 

To test the potential influence of these policies on CPS investigations, Pac and colleagues ran a simulation using data from various databases. What they found was that on average, these packages could reduce CPS investigations by 11.3-19.7% yearly. Based on their estimates, up to 669,018 fewer children could be under CPS supervision. 

Because race and ethnicity are associated with need, Pac and colleagues noted that these policy packages would greatly reduce racial disparities within the child welfare system. They found an 18.7-28.5% reduction in investigations for Black children and a 13.3-24.4% reduction for Hispanic children. This is important because Black and Hispanic children have been historically overrepresented in CPS reports even though they only make up a smaller percentage of the population. 

Based on this research, it seems that implementing policies that lessen the economic and mental burdens on parents can reduce CPS investigations and improve child wellbeing. For example, expanding economic support would allow parents to spend more time with their children, buy essentials such as groceries, and afford necessary physical and mental health care. All in all, the researchers suggest that the potential positive effects of poverty alleviation policies on child safety are too big to be ignored.