Updated January 19, 2021
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
The Work of Child Welfare Agencies
health, education, and law enforcement agencies—to carry out
Children depend on adults—usually their parents—to protect
child welfare activities. This work is done consistent with state
and support them. The broadest mission of public child welfare
laws and policies. At the same time the federal government has
agencies is to strengthen families so that children can depend
long provided technical support and funding that is intended to
on their parents to provide them with a safe and loving home.
improve state child welfare work. By providing this funding,
More specifically, child welfare agencies work to prevent
the federal government compels states to meet certain program
abuse or neglect of children by their parents/caregivers. If
rules, such as requiring permanency planning for all children in
abuse or neglect has already happened, the agencies are
foster care. Compliance with these child welfare requirements
expected to provide aid, services or referrals as needed to
is monitored via federal plan approvals, audits, and reviews.
ensure children do not re-experience maltreatment. For some
The Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health
children, this means placement in foster care.
and Human Services (HHS) administers most federal child
welfare programs. State level administration may be housed in
Federal child welfare policy has three primary goals:
the state human services department, or by an independent,
ensuring children’s safety, enabling permanency for
state-level child and family services agency. Some states have
children, and promoting the well-being of children
county-administered programs supervised by the state agency
and their families.
Child Welfare Spending and Programs
Foster care is understood as a temporary living situation. The
State child welfare agencies spent about $30 billion on child
first task of a child welfare agency is to provide services to
welfare purposes during state FY2016, according to a survey
enable children to safely reunite with their families. If that is
by the research group Child Trends. Most of that spending
not possible, then the agency works to find a new permanent
drew from state and local coffers (56%). Of the remainder,
family for the child via adoption or guardianship. Youth in
27% was supplied by federal programs solely dedicated to
care who are neither reunited nor placed with a new permanent
child welfare—including those authorized in Title IV-E and
family are typically “emancipated” at their state’s legal age of
Title IV-B of the Social Security Act (SSA) and the Child
majority. These youth are said to have “aged out” of care.
Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)—and 17%
from other federal programs not solely child welfare-focused
(principally, these are the Social Services Block Grant and
During FY2019 public child protection agencies screened
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Federal child
allegations of abuse or neglect involving 7.9 million children,
welfare policy requirements are linked only to programs
carried out investigations or other protective responses
dedicated solely to child welfare purposes. For FY2021,
involving 3.5 million of those children, and provided follow-
Congress provided at least $11.6 billion for such programs via
up services in the homes of some 1.1 million of those children.
the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260),
Following a child protective services investigation, some
including regular annual funding (primarily in Div. H) and
children are removed to foster care. During FY2019, more
supplemental COVID-19-related funding (Div. X).
than 251,000 children entered care. The circumstances most
Figure 1. Federal Child Welfare Funding by Purpose
often associated with children’s entry to foster care are neglect
(FY2021 total: $11.6 billion) Dollars shown in millions
and/or parental drug abuse. Among the 424,000 children who
were in foster care on the last day of FY2019, the majority
(82%) lived in family homes (nonrelative or relative foster
family homes and pre-adoptive homes), 10% lived in a group
home or institution, about 7% were on trial home visits or in
supervised independent living, and close to 1% had run away.
Among the 249,000 children who formally left foster care
during FY2019, more than half returned to their parents or
went to live informally with a relative (53%), while 37% left
care for a new permanent family via adoption or guardianship.
At the same time, 8% aged out of care, while most of the
remainder (1%) were transferred to the care of another agency.
Who Bears Public Responsibility for This Work?
Under the U.S. Constitution, states are considered to bear the
Source: Prepared by CRS using funding levels provided in P.L. 116-
primary public responsibility for ensuring the well-being of
260 or otherwise provided for FY2021. Amounts shown for foster
care and prevention and adoption, and guardianship, are based on
children and their families. Public child welfare agencies at the
definite budget authority provided. Actual federal spending may be
state and local levels work with an array of private and public
greater due to support authorized as part of COVID-19 response.
entities—including the courts and social service, health, mental
* Includes regular and supplemental COVID 19-related support.
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
Title IV-E of the Social Security Act
2020–September 30, 2021) and raises federal IV-E kinship
Title IV-E supports foster care, adoption assistance, and (at
navigator support to 100% for the same period.
state option) guardianship assistance to children who meet
Title IV-B of the Social Security Act
federal IV-E eligibility rules. As of FY2019, the program may
Title IV-B includes the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare
be used for kinship navigator programs meeting IV-E evidence
Services (CWS) and the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and
standards. As of FY2020, states may opt to provide selected
Stable Families (PSSF) programs, which authorize grants to
evidence-based foster care prevention services. Funding is
states and tribes for child and family services. Total FY2021
authorized on a permanent (no year limit) and open-ended,
funding for CWS, PSSF and related research and training is
mandatory basis. P.L. 116-260 (Div. H) provides $9.9 billion
$781 million, including $85 million in supplemental PSSF
in definite budget authority but federal FY2021 IV-E costs
funding in response to COVID-19. Capped mandatory funding
may exceed that amount due to temporary COVID-19-related
is authorized for PSSF through FY2022 and discretionary
changes, including those in the Supporting Foster Youth and
funding for CWS and PSSF is authorized through FY2021.
Families Through the Pandemic Act (P.L. 116-260, Div. X).
Foster Care, Adoption, and Guardianship
There are no federal eligibility rules for receipt of Title IV-B
services. Funds are used to protect children (CWS); support,
Under IV-E, states and participating tribes must provide foster
preserve, and reunite families (CWS and PSSF); and promote
care and adoption aid to eligible children and the federal
and support adoption (CWS and PSSF). Children served may
government is committed to paying a part of the cost of that
be living at home or in foster care. States must provide at least
aid (50% to 83%, depending on the state/tribe); and a part of
$1 in nonfederal funds for every $3 in federal funds received.
the cost of administering the program (50% in all states/tribes)
and for training (75% in all states/tribes). States/tribes may opt
A portion of PSSF funding is reserved each year for the Court
to provide IV-E guardianship aid under this same cost-sharing
Improvement Program ($30 million), grants to improve
structure. An estimated 703,000 children received Title IV-E
monthly caseworker visits ($20 million), Regional Partnership
support in an average FY2019 month, including adoption aid
Grants (RPGs) to improve outcomes for children and families
(504,000), foster care (163,000), or guardianship aid (35,000).
affected by parental substance use disorder ($20 million), and
for related research and technical assistance (circa $8 million).
In the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127)
Additionally, for FY2021, $10 million of the supplemental
Congress authorized a temporary increase in support for Title
PSSF funds are to boost Court Improvement funding and, out
IV-E aid payments, committing the federal government to
of regular PSSF funding, $19 million is provided for grants to
paying 56.2% to 89.2% of state costs (depending on the state
states and tribes to develop kinship navigator programs that
or tribe). This increased IV-E support is set to remain available
meet the IV-E evidence and other standards; $2.6 million is
through the last day of the quarter in which the HHS Secretary
declares an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
directed to the IV-E prevention services clearinghouse; and $1
million supports additional child and family services research.
In general, states and tribes must only spend IV-E dollars
Title IV-E Chafee Foster Care Program for
(federal and state/tribal) on children who meet federal
Successful Transition to Adulthood
eligibility criteria. Rules vary by type of aid. For foster care,
Under the Chafee program, states receive grants for services to
they include an income test (applied to the home the child is
assist children who experience foster care at age 14 or older,
removed from), removal requirements (typically, a judge must
find that a home is “contrary to the welfare” of the child and
including former foster youth up to age 21 (or 23 in states that
that “reasonable efforts” to p
offer foster care support to age 21). Funding is also authorized
revent foster care were made),
for Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs) to allow
placement in a licensed foster family home or other eligible
Chafee-eligible youth to attend college or post-secondary
facility, and age requirements. Fewer than 50% of children in
training. Funding for Chafee basic grants is authorized on a
care meet those criteria, although this share varies by state.
capped mandatory basis and for ETVs on a discretionary basis.
Through FY2021, P.L. 116-260 (Div. X) prohibits states from
Both funding authorizations are permanent (no year limit).
requiring youth to leave foster care solely due to age (whether
States are required to provide no less than $1 for every $4 in
18 or, in some states, 21) and, for purposes of determining IV-
E eligibility, it lifts the age (and related work/education) rules.
federal Chafee/ETV funding they receive. FY2021 funding of
these activities is $586 million, including $400 million to help
Prevention and Kinship Navigator
states better serve youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
States and tribes opting to provide approved IV-E prevention
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
services may offer them to children at “imminent risk” of
CAPTA authorizes grants to states to improve child protective
foster care; pregnant or parenting youth in care; and the parents
services (no non-federal match required), and for community-
or kin caregivers of these children and youth. No income test
based efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect (20% non-
need apply. By early FY2021, nine jurisdictions had approval
federal match required). It also funds research and technical
to offer IV-E prevention services and eight more had submitted
assistance. CAPTA’s discretionary funding authorities expired
plans seeking approval. P.L. 116-260 (Div. X) temporarily
with FY2015, but support has continued. For FY2021,
increases federal support for these services from 50% to 100%
(April 1, 2020–September 30, 2021).
CAPTA appropriated funding totaled $186 million, including
$90 million for state grants, $61 million for community-based
IV-E funded kinship navigator programs may serve kinship
grants, and $35 million for research and technical assistance.
families without regard to any past or current child welfare
involvement. This support is authorized at 50% of state/tribal
Emilie Stoltzfus, Specialist in Social Policy
costs, provided the navigator program meets the IV-E evidence
standards. To date, none have been found to do so. P.L. 116-
260 (Div. X) temporarily waives the evidence rules (April 30,
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
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