Survey Finds Decline in Child Welfare Spending

September 26, 2014

Bethesda, Md.—For the first time in nearly 20 years, total spending on child welfare in the U.S. has declined. A new Child Trends study, Federal, State, and Local Spending to Address Child Abuse and Neglect in SFY 2012, summarizes key findings from a national survey of states’ child welfare expenditures.

The survey of 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico found that child welfare agency expenditures from federal, state, and local sources decreased by eight percent between state fiscal years 2010 and 2012—representing the first decrease in spending that has been found since the survey began in 1996. In addition, federal spending on child welfare declined, and was found to be at its lowest level since the state fiscal year 1998 survey.

Child welfare agencies are charged with ensuring the safety, permanency, and well-being of children who have been abused or neglected, and those deemed at risk of abuse or neglect. Using federal, state, and local funds, these agencies provide services to prevent abuse and neglect, to preserve families, to protect children, and to place children outside of their homes when necessary.

Between October 2011 and September 2012, child welfare agencies received an estimated 3.4 million referrals of alleged child abuse or neglect, involving around 6.3 million children. Nearly 680,000 children were determined to be victims of maltreatment that year, and an estimated 638,000 children were in foster care during this time.

“While some might expect a decrease in spending because there’s been a decline in the number of children in foster care and the number of children who are victims of abuse or neglect, in previous surveys we found increases in spending in years when caseloads declined,” said Kerry DeVooght, a research scientist at Child Trends and an author of the study. “Also, the decline in caseloads was not large enough to account for the full decrease in spending. This tells us something else is going on.”

In addition to the decline in federal funding, the survey also found that the percent of children in foster care in the U.S. who are eligible for federal foster care funding (through Title IV-E) dropped from 55 percent to 52 percent between state fiscal years 2010 and 2012. States must rely on other sources of funding—including their own dollars or other federal sources not exclusively dedicated to foster care—to support these ineligible children.

States also use flexible funding sources, specifically the Social Services Block Grant and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to support child welfare services. “This survey asked child welfare agencies what they’re using that flexible funding for, and we found that most often, they’re using it to support traditional foster care services. Given the drop in children eligible for Title IV-E funding, it’s understandable that states would turn to flexible funding to fill in the gaps,” DeVooght said.

The survey showed that expenditures on child welfare services vary considerably by state. The survey and report, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs, can help state agencies and policymakers understand and analyze trends in child welfare spending across the U.S. and within individual states over time. The survey collects data not otherwise available.

In addition to the report, data from the SFY 2012 survey are available on the State Child Welfare Policy Database—a partnership of Child Trends and Casey Family Programs—at



Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development. Its mission is to improve the lives and prospects of children and youth by conducting high-quality research and sharing the resulting knowledge with practitioners and policymakers. Child Trends has more than 120 employees and annual revenue of about $14