States Spending Little on Prevention Services, Survey Finds

Posted March 15, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Child welfare expenditures by category of service (2021)

In its 11th nation­al sur­vey to iden­ti­fy trends in child wel­fare fund­ing sources and agency spend­ing, Child Trends finds that child wel­fare agen­cies increased their spend­ing by 2% over the past decade, with a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of that spend­ing going to place young peo­ple away from their own homes. The com­pre­hen­sive report, pro­duced with sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and Casey Fam­i­ly Pro­grams, tracks expen­di­tures over a decade, updat­ing pre­vi­ous sur­veys to include data from state fis­cal year (SFY2018.

Child Wel­fare Financ­ing SFY 2018 shows agen­cies spent $33 bil­lion nation­wide dur­ing this peri­od, with resources culled from mul­ti­ple fund­ing streams. While ratios vary wide­ly from state to state, most agen­cies use a mix of fed­er­al, state, local and oth­er sources — each with dis­tinct pur­pos­es and require­ments. Under­stand­ing this financ­ing sys­tem is key to ana­lyz­ing how states decide to care for chil­dren at risk of mal­treat­ment and the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties pub­lic sys­tems face in car­ry­ing out their responsibilities.

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing insights into how agen­cies finance and pri­or­i­tize their work, the most recent data — col­lect­ed in 2019 and 2020 — also cap­ture a sig­nif­i­cant moment for the child wel­fare field, just pri­or to the onset of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, the imple­men­ta­tion of the Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act and a nation­al reck­on­ing on racial equi­ty. Agency lead­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers can use these data as a base­line to track the effects of these fac­tors on future spending.

As in pre­vi­ous years, the SFY 2018 sur­vey found that out-of-home place­ments con­tin­ued to be a financ­ing pri­or­i­ty for agen­cies — mak­ing up 45% of total fed­er­al, state and local child wel­fare spend­ing, with just 15% going toward pre­ven­tive ser­vices that sup­port fam­i­lies with the goal of keep­ing chil­dren safe in their homes.

Fam­i­ly First’s empha­sis on pre­ven­tion is a start to shift­ing that trend, not­ed Leslie Gross, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group. She says that fam­i­lies can’t afford to wait for pri­or­i­ties to shift. The pan­dem­ic has ampli­fied the urgent need to sup­port fam­i­lies so they can stay togeth­er — and these data show we can do much more to reori­ent our approach­es to keep­ing young peo­ple with their fam­i­lies and in their com­mu­ni­ties,” Gross says.

The sur­vey also found:

  • Most child wel­fare agency spend­ing on pre­ven­tive ser­vices fund­ed skill-based pro­grams for par­ents, case­work­er vis­its and admin­is­tra­tion, with a small­er por­tion focused on sub­stance abuse and men­tal health services.
  • Few states were able to report how much of their spend­ing went to evi­dence-based prac­tices, a key focus of the Fam­i­ly First Act.

The report includes reflec­tive ques­tions for state sys­tem lead­ers to ask about their spend­ing, including:

  • Does our spend­ing reflect our pri­or­i­ties and values?
  • How does the way we finance child wel­fare per­pet­u­ate racial inequity and dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty in our system?
  • How can we use the Fam­i­ly First Act and oth­er recent leg­is­la­tion to max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to finance child wel­fare differently?
  • Are child wel­fare sys­tems achiev­ing desired results for all chil­dren and families?
  • Are we miss­ing resources avail­able to our agency?

Learn about how child wel­fare agen­cies can con­duct a fis­cal analy­sis for Fam­i­ly First

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