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Journal Issue: Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect Volume 8 Number 1 Spring 1998

The Costs of Child Protection in the Context of Welfare Reform
Mark E. Courtney


The financing structure of any large public service system both reveals the priorities held by policymakers and drives the delivery of services. Of the $11.2 billion in public funds for child welfare services, somewhat less than half is federal. As this article explains, federal funds for child welfare overwhelmingly go to support out-of-home care (foster care and adoption services), and these costs have risen sharply in recent years. In contrast, federal funding for child protection investigations, prevention programs, and treatment services is more limited, and expenditures have not risen apace with reports of maltreatment.

The article compares the high cost of foster care with the lower per capita cost of cash assistance to poor families and the per-case costs of child protection investigations and service provision. Pointing out that the great majority of families served by the child welfare system are poor, the author argues that child welfare and cash assistance should be seen and analyzed as interrelated programs serving poor families. The article examines the varied ways in which the changes in cash assistance programs introduced by the 1996 federal welfare reform law may increase the need for child welfare services and drive up the costs of child protection.