Smart Spending for Better Outcomes

The federal government spends about $4.4 billion a year under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to maintain children in foster care. By comparison, only about $700 million a year is available to be invested in a wider array of evidence-based and promising practices and interventions that can keep more children safe and make more families strong.

Nearly 400,000 children are living in foster care right now. But that is only a fraction of the children who came to the attention of state and local child welfare systems.

In fact, each year more than 3 million children 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.

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

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. Child welfare systems should be able to invest existing resources in a wider array of services and interventions that can address the challenges in their communities to safely reduce the need for foster care and improve the life outcomes of children and families.

Improving the opportunities and outcomes for children and families 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 more effective investments in what works best.