Lowering Foster Care Numbers
In our past newsletters on the foster care system, we often make mention that over 400,000 children and youth will find themselves in the system annually. It is far too many for social services agencies to keep up with. We have shared time and again how agencies are overburdened on caseloads, which often lead to serious, if not, fatal consequences for the children they are supposed to be protecting. Is there a way to lower this total? According to one research study–Yes!
A new study published in the journal Health Affairs found that during the study’s 12-year span, as many as 29,000 children could have possibly avoided foster care if U.S. states made funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program more accessible to impoverished families. Established in 1996, the TANF program is a block grant program that gives states up to $16.5 billion annually to provide assistance to families in need. However, for families, the requirements to receive payments, as well as the amounts of the payments themselves, vary from state to state.
One area of focus of the study was on six different restrictions on TANF benefits in various states affecting how many low-income people participated in their state’s program, along with looking for links between changes in participation and child welfare system outcomes. Among restrictions were work requirements for mothers of children less than 1-year-old, and cutting off benefits before the five years allowed by the federal government. The study found that each additional TANF policy that restricted access to benefits was linked to 13% fewer families participating in the TANF program. Restrictions on TANF access were associated with 44 additional neglect victims per 100,000 children and 22 additional children per 100,000 placed in foster care, researchers found.
A lack of financial security can lead to a great deal of stress and strain on parents’ mental health, which can lead to experiences of depression and anxiety, which may inhibit them from seeking and securing jobs that could provide for their families. Parents should not have to face ridiculous requirements from receiving funds from the very programs that are supposed to help their situation, and can ultimately compound into social services removing children from the home. It is completely unnecessary to remove a child from their given family when the primary issue faced is only impoverishment. Removing a child from the home should be reserved for more injurious situations such as abuse. Foster care can be incredibly expensive, more so than welfare programs such as TANF. Not only is helping impoverished families with financial assistance a moral good, but an economic good as well.