Policy & Practice | October 2021

research corner By Nicole L. Kovski, Heather D. Hill, Stephen J. Mooney, Frederick P. Rivara, and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar

Prevent Child Maltreatment: Reducing Poverty Through Income Support Policies

C hild maltreatment impacts a significant share of children and families in the United States. In 2018, 7.8 million U.S. children were the subject of an investigation for suspected abuse or neglect by child protective services (CPS). 1 Over the course of childhood, an estimated 37 percent of all U.S. children will experi- ence at least one maltreatment-related investigation 2 and 12.5 percent will be deemed victims of maltreatment by CPS. 3 Maltreatment has numerous consequences for children, including adverse cognitive, emotional or behav- ioral, social, and economic outcomes throughout the life course. Poor children experience mal- treatment at higher rates. Economic hardship can increase maltreatment risk directly by impairing caregivers’ ability to adequately meet children’s basic material, safety, medical, and supervisory needs. It can also increase risk indirectly by increasing parental stress, which can, in turn, lead to harsh or neglectful parenting. Given the strong link between families’ economic circumstances and maltreatment risk, public policies and programs that are designed to reduce poverty may prevent the occurrence of child maltreatment in the United States. While no single policy can eliminate child maltreat- ment, income support policies have been proposed as an efficient and effec- tive approach for primary prevention. 4 Evidence from the Earned IncomeTax Credit In the United States, the largest income support program for working families with children is the federal

rates of reported child maltreat- ment. We used administrative data on maltreatment from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), which contains a record of all “screened-in” reports of maltreat- ment (i.e., reports that met agency criteria to warrant further investiga- tion) in nearly all U.S. states from 2004 through 2017. We considered overall maltreatment report rates as well as specific types—neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse, and child ages—0–5 years versus 6–17 years). Our study found that greater generosity of state EITC benefits was associated with reduced rates of maltreatment reports made to CPS. A 10-percentage point increase in the generosity of refundable state EITC benefits was associated with 241 fewer reports of neglect per 100,000 children

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit that is conditional on employment and available to low- to moderate-income working families. In 2020, the average credit was $2,461 per household, but the maximum credit for families with three or more children reached $6,660. The EITC lifts millions of individuals out of poverty, including three million children, every year. 5 In addition to the federal EITC, 30 states and the District of Columbia have state EITCs, typically offered as a percentage of the federal EITC. A considerable body of research suggests that EITC benefits have positive spillover effects on families’ well-being, including improvements in children’s health and developmental outcomes. 6 In a recent study published in Child Maltreatment , 7 we investi- gated whether the generosity of state EITC benefits (the percentage of the federal credit) influenced state-level

See Income Support on page 31

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October 2021 Policy&Practice

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