Updated December 3, 2020
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
What Is the Work of Child Welfare
Who Bears Public Responsibility for This Work?
As the U.S. Constitution has been understood, states are
Children depend on adults—usually their parents—to protect
considered to bear the primary public responsibility for
and support them. The broadest mission of child welfare
ensuring the well-being of children and their families. Public
agencies is to strengthen families so that children can depend
child welfare agencies at the state and local levels work with
on their parents to nurture them, keep them safe, and provide
an array of private and public entities—including the courts
them with a permanent, stable home. More specifically, child
and social service, health, mental health, education, and law
welfare agencies are expected to act to prevent abuse or
enforcement agencies—to carry out child welfare activities.
neglect of children by their parents/caregivers. If abuse or
This work is done consistent with state laws and policies. At
neglect has already happened, the agencies are expected to
the same time, the federal government has long provided
provide assistance, services, or referrals as needed to ensure
technical support and funding intended to improve state child
children do not re-experience maltreatment. For some children,
welfare work. Further, by providing funding for this work, the
this means placement in foster care.
federal government compels states to meet program rules, such
as requiring permanency planning protections for all children
in foster care. Compliance with these requirements is
Federal child welfare policy has three primary goals:
monitored via federal plan approvals, audits, and reviews.
ensuring children’s safety, enabling permanency for
children, and promoting the well-being of children
At the federal level, child welfare programs are administered
and their families.
by the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services (HHS). At the state level, federal
Foster care is understood as a temporary living situation, and a
child welfare programs are often administered within the state
primary task of a child welfare agency is to find children in
human services department, or by an independent, state-level
foster care a permanent home. Most often this is done by
child and family services agency. However, some states have
offering services that enable children to safely reunite with
county-administered programs supervised by the state agency.
their parents or relatives. If that is not possible, then the child
Child Welfare Spending and Programs
welfare agency works to find a new permanent family for the
child via adoption or legal guardianship. Foster youth who are
State child welfare agencies spent about $30 billion on child
not reunited or placed with a new permanent family are usualy
welfare purposes during state FY2016, according to a survey
“emancipated” when they reach their state’s legal age of
by the research group Child Trends. Most of that spending
majority. These youth are said to have “aged out” of care.
drew from state and local coffers (56%). Of the remainder,
27% was supplied by federal programs solely dedicated to
child welfare—including those authorized in Title IV-E and
During FY2018 (the most recent data), public child protection
Title IV-B of the Social Security Act (SSA) and the Child
agencies screened allegations of abuse or neglect involving 7.8
Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)—and 17%
million children, carried out investigations or other protective
from other federal programs not solely child welfare-focused
responses involving 3.5 million of those children, and provided
(principally, these are Social Services Block Grant [SSBG] and
follow-up services in the homes of some 1.1 million of those
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF]).
Federal child welfare policy requirements are linked only to
Following a child protective services investigation, some
programs dedicated solely to child welfare purposes. For
children are removed to foster care. During FY2019, more
FY2020, Congress provided about $10.2 billion for such
than 251,000 children entered care. The circumstances most
programs. Most of this was provided in , including as part of
often associated with children’s entry to foster care are neglect
the Family First Transition Act (FFTA).
and/or parental drug abuse. Among the 424,000 children who
were in foster care on the last day of FY2019, the majority
Title IV-E of the SSA primarily supports provision of foster
(82%) lived in family homes (non-relative or relative foster
care, adoption assistance, and (at state option) guardianship
family homes and pre-adoptive homes), 10% lived in a group
assistance to children who meet federal IV-E eligibility rules.
home or institution, about 7% were on trial home visits, or in
Under IV-E, states must provide foster care and adoption aid to
supervised independent living; close to 1% had run away.
eligible children, and the federal government is committed to
Among the 249,000 children who formally left foster care
paying a part of the cost of that aid (50% to 83%, depending
during FY2019, more than half returned to their parents or
on the state), as well as a part of the cost of administering the
went to live informally with a relative (53%), while 37% left
program (50% in all states) and for training (75% in all states).
care for a new permanent family via adoption or legal
States may opt to provide Title IV-E guardianship assistance
guardianship (including with kin). At the same time, 8% aged
under this same cost sharing structure. Definite budget
out of care, while most of the remainder (1%) were transferred
authority for these Title IV-E costs was given at $8.4 billion in
to the care of another agency.
P.L. 116-94. As part of its COVID-19 response (P.L. 116-
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
127), Congress authorized a temporary increase in federal
$500 million to be used by states and tribes for any of the child
support for Title IV-E assistance payments (retroactive to
welfare purposes authorized in Title IV-B, including work
January 1, 2020). HHS anticipates this change would increase
related to implementing FFPSA, or to continue support for
federal IV-E spending in FY2020 by some $345 million.
activities previously supported under a Title IV-E waiver. HHS
has distributed this formula funding (and it may be used for
HHS estimates 703,000 children received Title IV-E support in
multiple years). Separately, FFTA authorized temporary IV-E
an average month during FY2019. Most received adoption
support to provide “funding certainty” for jurisdictions with a
assistance (504,000); smaller numbers received foster care
recently ended Title IV-E waiver project (FY2020-FY2021). It
(163,000) or guardianship assistance (35,000). In general, a
also eases access to IV-E prevention funding in FY2020-
state must only spend IV-E dollars (federal and state) on
FY2023. The Congressional Budget Office estimates those
children who meet federal eligibility criteria. For foster care,
temporary changes will cost the federal Treasury about $305
this includes an income test (applied to the home the child is
removed from), removal requirements (typically, a judge must
find that a home is “contrary to the welfare” of the child and
Figure 1. Federal Child Welfare Funding by Purpose
that “reasonable efforts” to prevent foster care were made), and
(FY2020 total: $10.2 billion) Dollars shown in millions
placement in a licensed foster family home or other eligible
facility. Less than 50% of children in care meet those criteria,
although the share varies by state.
Beginning with FY2020, states may choose to fund selected
Title IV-E foster care prevention services provided they meet
evidence-based and other program rules. Federal support for
these IV-E services is 50% of the state’s cost. As of FY2019,
IV-E support for evidence-based kinship navigator programs is
authorized at the same rate of support. Title IV-E funding is
authorized on a permanent and mandatory basis.
Title IV-B includes the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare
Services (CWS) and the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and
Source: Prepared by CRS using funding levels provided in P.L. 116-
Stable Families (PSSF) programs. They authorize formula
93, P.L. 116-94, P.L. 116-136 or otherwise provided for FY2020.
grants to states and tribes for child and family services. Total
Amounts shown for foster care, adoption, and guardianship assistance
FY2020 funding for CWS, PSSF and for related research or
are based on definite budget authority provided for IV-E in P.L. 116-
other activities authorized in IV-B is $748 million (including
94. Actual federal spending is expected to be greater due in part to,
$45 million in supplemental CWS funding provided as
increased federal support for IV-E assistance as part of COVID-19
COVID-19 relief in the CARES Act, P.L. 116-136). Annual
response and funding certainty grants authorized in FFTA.
CWS and PSSF funding is authorized through FY2021.
* Includes only funding appropriated by FFTA outside of Title IV-E.
There are no federal eligibility rules for receipt of Title IV-B
services. Funds are used to protect children (CWS); support,
Under the Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful
preserve, and reunite families (CWS and PSSF); and promote
Transition to Adulthood, states receive formula grants for
and support adoption (CWS and PSSF). Children served may
services to assist children who experience foster care at age 14
be living at home or in foster care. States must provide no less
or older, including former foster youth up to age 21 (or 23 in
than $1 in nonfederal funds for every $3 they receive in federal
states that offer foster care support to age 21). Funding is
funds. Funding is authorized on a discretionary basis for CWS
separately authorized for Educational and Training Vouchers
and on a discretionary and capped mandatory basis for PSSF.
(ETVs), which may provide up to $5,000 per year to allow
Chafee-eligible youth to attend college or post-secondary
Some PSSF program funding is reserved each year for specific
training. Funding for Chafee basic grants is authorized on a
programs, including the Court Improvement Program ($30
capped mandatory basis and for ETVs on a discretionary basis.
million), grants to improve monthly caseworker visits with
Both funding authorizations are permanent (no expiration
foster children ($20 million), Regional Partnership Grants
date). States are required to provide no less than $1 for every
(RPGs) to improve outcomes for children affected by parental
$4 in federal Chafee/ETV funding they receive. Combined
substance use disorder ($20 million), and for child and family
FY2020 funding is $186 million.
services-related research, evaluation and technical assistance
activities (circa $8 million). For FY2020, P.L. 116-94 directed
Child Abuse Prevent and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
additional PSSF funds to be used for RPGs ($9.5 million) and
CAPTA authorizes grants to states to improve child protective
for research and evaluation ($1.6 million). Separately, $2.6
services, and to support community-based efforts to prevent
million was tagged to support the Title IV-E prevention
child abuse and neglect. It also funds related research and
services clearinghouse and $19 million to allow states and
technical assistance. CAPTA’s discretionary funding
tribes to develop kinship navigator programs that meet the
authorities expired with FY2015, but support has continued.
evidence and other standards required for Title IV-E support.
For FY2020, CAPTA funding totaled $181 million, including
Family First Transition Act (FFTA)
$90 million for state grants, $56 million for community-based
grants, and $35 million for research and technical assistance.
FFTA provides one-time funds and temporary policy changes
to help implement the Family First Prevention Services Act
Emilie Stoltzfus, Specialist in Social Policy
(FFPSA, P.L. 115-123), including a one-time appropriation of
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
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