Fitting the funding to the children’s needs: Smarter, more flexible federal funding can transform child welfare in America

Last year about 223,000 children across the country were removed from their families and placed in foster care. But that is only a fraction of the children who came to the attention of state and local child welfare systems.

In fact, more than three million children annually are involved in investigations or assessments of abuse, neglect or other issues that can profoundly impact their opportunities to grow up happy, healthy and prepared to succeed in life.

A tremendous opportunity exists to transform America’s child welfare system to ensure more of these children and their families receive the support they need. But we must make smarter, more effective investments in the kinds of interventions that safely reduce the need for foster care and promote stronger families.

The federal government provides approximately $7.6 billion annually to states through its two main sources of dedicated child welfare funding, Title IV-E and Title IV-B of the Social Security Act.

Rather than promoting innovative and proven approaches that better serve children and keep them safe, the bulk of federal funding can only be spent on maintaining children in foster care.

These restrictive funding rules hinder the ways that child welfare systems can work with their communities to keep children safe.

In fact, for every $6 spent to maintain children in foster care, only $1 is available to be invested in a broader array of services that safely prevent the need for foster care.

Transforming child welfare to dramatically improve the opportunities and outcomes for children doesn’t need to begin with the appropriation of more money, but it must begin with states and local systems having the ability to make smarter, more effective investments in what works best.