• February 2006
  • Vol. 7, No. 1

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Child Welfare Involvement Among TANF Applicants

A recent study of Wisconsin applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) found that almost two-thirds were also involved with the child welfare system. The study also examined the characteristics associated with child protective services (CPS) involvement.

Researchers interviewed 1,075 Milwaukee County families who applied to receive TANF during 6 months in 1999; most were re-interviewed twice during the following 2 years. Administrative data from Wisconsin’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) indicated whether these families had been investigated by CPS and whether children had been placed in out-of-home care at anytime through July 2005.

Results show that almost 64 percent of families had experienced child welfare involvement, and those families had been investigated an average of 5.35 times each. The best predictor of experiencing CPS involvement after the baseline interview was having CPS involvement before the baseline interview. Other characteristics associated with CPS involvement included:

  • Parents identifying themselves as having a drug or alcohol problem
  • Higher levels of parental stress
  • More material hardships during the previous year
  • More minor children
  • Having at least one minor child living somewhere else

The TANF families in this study were much more likely to have CPS involvement than previous studies of TANF families have indicated. The authors speculate about this jump, suggesting that the State’s unprecedented reductions in cash assistance may have made some families more vulnerable to child maltreatment and neglect. They suggest that greater coordination between child welfare and TANF agencies could help parents who might have conflicting demands from the different agencies; in addition, high-quality childcare and parenting assistance could be targeted for parents who have previous CPS involvement.

To obtain the full study, Findings from the Milwaukee TANF Applicant Study, by Mark Courtney and Amy Dworsky, visit the Chapin Hall website:


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