Addressing Economic Hardship Key to Preventing Child Welfare System Involvement

This brief summarizes historical policy context and provides an overview of policy, programmatic, analytic, and engagement strategies for leveraging economic supports to promote child and family well-being and prevent maltreatment. 

What We Did

Chapin Hall synthesized research on the role of economic hardship in child maltreatment, the impact of historical policy decisions, and the effects of economic supports on family functioning. Based on existing and emerging research, Chapin Hall formulated a conceptual model, theory of change, and set of recommendations for preventing child removal from being the child welfare system’s dominant intervention with families. The resulting brief recommends using economic and concrete supports to effectively prevent child maltreatment and promote family well-being.  

What We Found

Research suggests poverty is a key driver of child welfare system involvement and preliminary evidence suggests even modest economic supports can stabilize families and alleviate the need for more intensive intervention. The policy decision to separate economic supports to families from the services available through child welfare programs paired with discretionary reporting mandates and systemic inequities resulted in current pathways to support that are unnecessarily intrusive, punitive, circuitous, and burdensome for families needing financial assistance.   

What It Means

We need to develop a collaborative, multi-system approach to address economic hardship by:  

  • Using economic and concrete supports to help families address basic needs and create safer environments for children to thrive.  
  • Identifying and building policy levers that can support and encourage practices that stabilize rather than separate families. 
  • Expanding programmatic capacity to deliver supports collaboratively across human service agencies through new pathways accessible to families who need them.  
  • Developing a robust data analytic framework to define and identify economic risk as distinct from child maltreatment, measure family well-being, and quantify the impact of economic supports.  
  • Engaging key stakeholders and individuals with lived experience to ensure that system shifts reflect the priorities and needs of families.  
Recommended Citation
Weiner, D. A., Anderson, C., & Thomas, K. (2021). System transformation to support child and family well-being: The central role of economic and concrete supports. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Economic and Concrete Supports Brief

View slide deck on “Family and Child Well-Being System: Economic & Concrete Supports as a Core Component”