E4C Summit Highlights Evidence-Based Economic Supports That Protect Children and Families

Posted: September 7, 2023
Cross-posted from the North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s blog

Convened by the NCIOM’s Essentials for Childhood project in August, the summit, Economic Supports: A Path to Reduce Childhood Adversity, provided a deep look at the evidence and an opportunity to learn from other southern states’ investments in concrete supports. A panel of North Carolina leaders in child and family well-being also shared their experiences and recommendations.

Keynote speaker Clare Anderson, MSW, of Chapin Hall in Chicago spoke of “translating the science that has been with us for the better part of 30 or 40 years” to create stronger economic and concrete supports for families and children. Anderson noted that “child welfare has historically been and is a bipartisan issue. [All legislators] care deeply about families. They care deeply about whether or not kids experience abuse and neglect.”

Anderson shared research on how economic supports, such as SNAP, child care subsidies, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and tax credits have reduced child maltreatment rates and foster care entries. An analysis simulating the effects of increased household income found that anti-poverty policy packages could reduce CPS investigations by 386,000-669,000 fewer children investigated per year. These poverty packages include access to SNAP benefits, an increase in the federal minimum wage, and a universal monthly child allowance. Anderson noted that one study shows for every $1,000 states spent per person in poverty to directly address financial stability, housing, access to child care, and health care, there was a:

  • 4.3% reduction in CPS reporting,
  • 4% reduction in maltreatment substantiations,
  • 2.1% reduction in foster care placements and
  • 7.7% reduction in child fatalities [1].

According to Dolan (2011) [2], nearly 85% of families investigated by child protective services (CPS) have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is just under $50,000 for a family of three. Low-income families who experience at least one material hardship have a 3x higher likelihood of involvement with a neglect investigation and a 4x higher likelihood of a physical abuse investigation, Anderson shared, while a stable income is associated with a 5% lower risk of a CPS investigation. In the U.S., about 37% of all children experience a CPS investigation by age 18. This percentage is much higher for children of color; Anderson noted that nearly half of Black and Native American children (46.8% and 50.2%, respectively) experience a CPS investigation by their 18th birthday, compared to 26.3% for the overall cohort.

Anderson acknowledged the fluctuations many families experience in economic well-being and hardship, as well as the limitations of our social safety nets at the local and federal levels.

“Child welfare cannot do this alone,” she said. “This is the job for us as a society, this is a job of cross-sector relationships, this is a job of business, this is a reconceptualization of who we are as a society.”

North Carolina Experiences & Innovations

The first panel, which focused on the economic supports landscape and opportunities in North Carolina, featured three speakers: Beth Messersmith, MPA, Senior Campaign Director, North Carolina, of MomsRising; Madhu Vulimiri, MPP, Deputy Director, Division of Child and Family Well-Being for NC DHHS; and Carla West, MBA, Senior Director for Economic Security Division of Social Services, Economic and Family Services Section for NC DHHS.

Messersmith highlighted the importance of paid parental leave for all workers and the impact of the child care crisis. She noted the need for families to have access to affordable care to be able to go to work – and help their children have early learning experiences that they need to be ready for school. Vulimiri highlighted the advantages of using benefits such as SNAP and WIC. About 11% of our state experiences food insecurity, of which 400,000 are children, she explained. West emphasized the need to modernize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Work First, program. TANF provides parents with cash assistance, short-term training, and other services to help families who are having difficulty meeting their basic needs.

West said that there are currently 11,000 families receiving TANF benefits in NC, adding, “I know there’s way more families living in poverty than 11,000 households in North Carolina. So why aren’t families seeking this assistance?” In NC, there have been no changes to Work First benefits or regulations since 1996. Modernization efforts include asking why families aren’t applying and what services they really need.

“We are the fourth lowest state in the [TANF] amount we give families, but a lot of research shows it’s not just the amount of the payment, it’s also about wraparound services such as employment support and education,” West continued.

Lessons from Other Southern States

The second panel focused on lessons learned from other states, featuring participants from Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas. Erin Haire, MA, JD, Associate Director at South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, spoke of the “push and pull” between state- and local-level policy making and the need to customize policies for smaller counties, not just transfer policies down. Coda Rayo-Garza, MA, Research & Data Director for Every Texan, agreed and spoke about the difference at local levels. In San Antonio, Texas, there is a citywide Pre-K initiative funded by an 1/8-cent tax that seeks to provide early childhood education to every child. However, there has been difficulty gaining traction on a statewide level. “Local municipalities are taking initiatives into child care themselves,” said Rayo-Garza.

Jill Seyfred, MSW, Executive Director for Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, said her state has seen some of the opposite effect as statewide initiatives get adopted locally. Successful programs like the statewide Family Resource and Youth Services Centers have seen little debate about funding, she explained. “We know that when decisions are made as to whom your children are left with, if there are no quality, affordable child care options, you sometimes make those bad decisions,” Seyfred said. She noted that during Kentucky’s 2022 legislative session, the Child Care Assistance Fund was passed as a joint partnership between the state government and the Chamber of Commerce. This voluntary program allows an employer to participate and contribute toward child care for an employee, and the state will match what the employer puts in. All three panelists agreed that child care is a pressing issue in their state.

Looking Ahead

After the panel discussions, in-person attendees broke into groups to discuss three separate topics: data as a tool for informing policy change; landscaping potential strategies to improve understanding of economic supports; and alignment toward effective policy change. The results of those conversations will be used to advance further work through the Essentials for Childhood initiative. In closing remarks, Sharon Hirsch, President & CEO at Prevent Child Abuse NC, reminded participants that addressing abuse after it has occurred is expensive, costing North Carolinians more than $4,000 per minute in downstream consequences and poor outcomes in our health care, social services, education, and criminal justice systems. She emphasized that the trauma of poverty, neglect, and foster care has a long-term impact on children’s brain development, impacting health, educational attainment, well-being, and future prosperity.

“Providing stable incomes and concrete financial supports can reduce the load on families across North Carolina,” Hirsch said. “Every policy we set – from tax credits to paid leave – should reduce that financial stress on families and increase the time and capacity for supportive family relationships.”

1. Anderson, C., Grewal-Kök, Y., Cusick, G., Weiner, D., & Thomas, K. (2021). Family and child well-being system: Economic and concrete supports as a core component. [Power Point slides]. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. [Updated March 2023]

2. Dolan, M., Smith, K., Casanueva, C. & Ringeisen, H. (2011). NSCAW II Baseline Report: Introduction to NSCAW II. OPRE Report #2011-27a, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.