Updated April 16, 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
state-level child and family services agency. Some states have
children, and promoting the well-being
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 $33 billion on child
first task of a child welfare agency is to provide services to
welfare purposes during state FY2018, 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
26% was supplied by federal child welfare programs—
care who are neither reunited nor placed with a new permanent
including those authorized in Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the
family are typically “emancipated” at their state’s legal age of
Social Security Act (SSA) and the Child Abuse Prevention and
majority. These youth are said to have “aged out” of care.
Treatment Act (CAPTA)—and 18% came from other federal
programs not solely child welfare-focused (principally, these
are the Social Services Block Grant and Temporary Assistance
During FY2019, public child protection agencies screened
for Needy Families). For FY2021, about $12.5 billion was
allegations of abuse or neglect involving 7.9 million children,
provided for federal programs that are wholly dedicated to
carried out investigations or other protective responses
child welfare. Funds were provided via the Consolidated
involving 3.5 million of those children, and provided follow-
Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260; primarily Div. H,
up services in the homes of some 1.1 million of those children.
regular funds, and Div. X, additional COVID-19-related funds)
Following a child protective services investigation, some
and the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2), and for
children are removed to foster care. During FY2019, more
“funding certainty” grants authorized for two years via the
than 251,000 children entered care. The circumstances most
Family First Transition Act (P.L. 116-94, Div. N, §602).
often associated with children’s entry to foster care are neglect
Figure 1. Federal Child Welfare Funding by Purpose
and/or parental drug abuse. Among the 424,000 children who
(FY2021 total: ~$12.5 billion) Dollars shown in millions
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
Prepared by CRS using funding levels provided in P.L. 116-260, P.L.
117-2, and P.L. 116-94 (Div. N, §602). Amounts shown for foster care and
primary public responsibility for ensuring the well-being of
prevention and adoption and guardianship are definite budget authority. Actual
children and their families. Public child welfare agencies at the
IV-E spending may differ (see “Title IV-E of the Social Security Act”).
state and local levels work with an array of private and public
entities—including the courts and social service, health, mental
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
* Includes regular and additional COVID-19-related funds. ** In April 2021,
navigator program meets the IV-E evidence standards. To date,
initial awards of “funding certainty” grants were made to 15 eligible agencies.
Award amounts may be adjusted. See HHS, ACF, ACYF, CB, PI-21-04, p 23.
none have been found to do so. P.L. 116-260 (Div. X) waives
the evidence rules from April 30, 2020, to September 30, 2021,
Title IV-E of the Social Security Act
and raises federal IV-E kinship navigator support to 100% for
Title IV-E supports foster care, adoption assistance, and (at
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).
There are no federal eligibility rules for receipt of Title IV-B
Foster Care, Adoption, and Guardianship
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), monthly caseworker visit
structure. An estimated 703,000 children received Title IV-E
grants ($20 million), Regional Partnership Grants (RPGs) to
support in an average FY2019 month, including adoption aid
improve outcomes for children and families affected by
(504,000), foster care (163,000), or guardianship aid (35,000).
parental substance use disorder ($20 million), and for related
technical assistance and research (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 kinship
paying 56.2% to 89.2% of state costs (depending on the state
navigator grants to states and tribes; $2.6 million is directed to
or tribe). This increased IV-E support is set to remain available
the IV-E prevention services clearinghouse; and $1 million
through the last day of the quarter in which the HHS Secretary
supports additional child and family services research.
declares an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Chafee Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood
In general, states and tribes must only spend IV-E dollars
Under the Chafee program, states receive grants for services to
(federal and state/tribal) on children who meet federal
assist children who experience foster care at age 14 or older,
eligibility criteria. Rules vary by type of aid. For foster care,
including former foster youth up to age 21 (or 23 in states that
they include an income test (applied to the home the child is
offer foster care support to age 21). Funding is also authorized
removed from), removal requirements (typically, a judge must
find that a home is “contrary to the welfare” of the child and
for Educational and Training Vouchers (ETVs) to allow
Chafee-eligible youth to attend college or post-secondary
that “reasonable efforts” to prevent foster care were made),
training. Funding for Chafee basic grants is authorized on a
placement in a licensed foster family home or other eligible
capped mandatory basis and for ETVs on a discretionary basis.
facility, and age requirements. Fewer than 50% of children in
Both funding authorizations are permanent (no year limit).
care meet those criteria, although this share varies by state.
States are required to provide no less than $1 for every $4 in
Through FY2021, P.L. 116-260 (Div. X) prohibits states from
federal Chafee/ETV funding they receive. FY2021 funding of
requiring youth to leave foster care solely due to age (whether
these activities is $586 million, including $400 million to help
18 or, in some states, 21) and, for purposes of determining IV-
states better serve youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
E eligibility, it lifts the age (and related work/education) rules.
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
Prevention and Kinship Navigator
CAPTA authorizes grants to states to improve child protective
States and tribes opting to provide approved IV-E prevention
services (no nonfederal match required), and for community-
services may offer them to children at “imminent risk” of
based efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect (20%
foster care; pregnant or parenting youth in care; and the parents
nonfederal match required). It also funds research and
or kin caregivers of these children and youth. No income test
technical assistance. CAPTA’s discretionary funding
need apply. As of early 2021, nine states and DC had approval
authorities expired with FY2015, but support has continued.
to offer IV-E prevention services, and eight states and two
tribes had submitted plans seeking approval to do so. P.L. 116-
CAPTA funding totaled $536 million for FY2021, including
260 (Div. X) increases federal support for prevention services
$190 million for state grants ($90 million in regular funding
from 50% to 100% for April 1, 2020–September 30, 2021.
and $100 million supplemental), $311 million for community-
based grants ($61 million in regular funding and $250 million
IV-E funded kinship navigator programs may serve kinship
supplemental, no nonfederal match required), and $35 million
families without regard to child welfare involvement. This
for research and technical assistance.
support is authorized at 50% of state/tribal costs, provided the
Child Welfare: Purposes, Federal Programs, and Funding
, Specialist in Social Policy
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
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