Economic Causes and Consequences of Child Maltreatment

In August 2015, the Institute for Research on Poverty hosted a workshop on the "Economic Causes and Consequences of Child Maltreatment," co-sponsored by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

The event was designed to address the causal role of income and material resources in child maltreatment behaviors or involvement in the child welfare system at any level. Also examined was the role of prevention in mediating the effects of poverty on child maltreatment behaviors or involvement with child welfare services and the effects of maltreatment, child protective services involvement, and/or foster care placement on later educational, employment, and other economic outcomes.

Kristen Slack, Lawrence Berger, and Jennifer Noyes co-organized the event and coedited a special issue of the journal Children and Youth Services Review in which papers discussed at the conference were published. The articles, listed and linked below, are available without a subscription throughout 2017.

"Economic Causes and Consequences of Child Maltreatment," Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 72 (January 2017): 1–150, edited by Kristen S. Slack, Lawrence M. Berger, and Jennifer L. Noyes.

Introduction to the special issue on the economic causes and consequences of child maltreatment, Kristen S. Slack, Lawrence M. Berger, Jennifer L. Noyes.

Child welfare involvement and contexts of poverty: The role of parental adversities, social networks, and social services, Kelley Fong.


  • Poor parents noted contexts of poverty and child welfare involvement.
  • Parents cited adversities such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
  • Disadvantaged and fractured social networks were an important context leading to involvement.
  • Social services involvement also brought parents into the child welfare system.

Economic predictors of child maltreatment in an Australian population-based birth cohort, James C. Doidge, Daryl J. Higgins, Paul Delfabbro, Ben Edwards, Suzanne Vassallo, John W. Toumbourou, Leonie Segal.


  • All forms of child maltreatment were independently predicted by economic factors.
  • The strongest determinants of maltreatment were poverty and parental unemployment.
  • Child maltreatment was attributable to economic factors in about 27% of cases.
  • Most sensitive to economic predictors were physical abuse, sexual abuse, and exposure to domestic violence.

The influence of concrete support on child welfare program engagement, progress, and recurrence, Whitney L. Rostad, Tia McGill Rogers, Mark J. Chaffin.


  • Low-income families often struggle to comply with child welfare programs.
  • Concrete support is effective in enhancing program engagement and outcomes.
  • Low-income families in child welfare programs should be supported through allocation of funds.

Out-of-home placement and regional variations in poverty and health and social services spending: A multilevel analysis, Tonino Esposito, Martin Chabot, David W. Rothwell, Nico Trocmé, Ashleigh Delaye.


  • This study was a longitudinal multilevel analysis.
  • The risk of placement is increased by poverty.
  • Regional variations in placement can be explained by poverty.

Intersections of individual and neighborhood disadvantage: Implications for child maltreatment, Kathryn Maguire-Jack, Sarah A. Font.


  • Regardless of parent income, neighborhood poverty is associated with child neglect.
  • Physical-needs neglect among low-income parents is reduced by affluent neighborhoods.
  • Other forms of maltreatment for low-income parents are not mediated by affluent neighborhoods.

Pathways of risk and resilience between neighborhood socioeconomic conditions and parenting, Elizabeth A. Shuey, Tama Leventhal.


  • Pathways from neighborhood socioeconomic conditions to parenting are examined.
  • Individual parenting behaviors are examined using multilevel models.
  • Neighborhood-concentrated affluence forecasts neighborhood resources.
  • Neighborhood resources are linked to less physically aggressive parenting.

Money matters: Does the minimum wage affect child maltreatment rates?, Kerri M. Raissian, Lindsey Rose Bullinger.


  • Children living in low-income families are at a greater risk of child maltreatment.
  • There is scarce causal evidence for the relationship between income and child maltreatment.
  • An exogenous increase to a family's income resulting from changes in the minimum wage is used to gauge effects.
  • Increasing the minimum wage leads to fewer child maltreatment reports in our results.
  • The reduction is especially significant for neglect among young and school-aged children.

The Great Recession and risk for child abuse and neglect, William Schneider, Jane Waldfogel, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn.


  • The Great Recession was associated with increased risk for child abuse, especially among households with a social father.
  • Maternal harsh parenting during the Great Recession may have been increased by widespread economic uncertainty.
  • The Great Recession was associated with less risk for child neglect, perhaps because neglect may be more influenced by individual hardship.
  • Macroeconomic measures of uncertainty may be less biased in links between hardship and risk for child maltreatment.

The effect of lowering welfare payment ceilings on children's risk of out-of-home placement, Christopher Wildeman, Peter Fallesen.


  • Causal effects of changes in income on child maltreatment are identified in few research studies.
  • Our study uses a Danish policy shock to estimate effects of income fluctuations on children's risk of being placed in out-of-home care.
  • We find very large effects, with the income shock causing dramatic increases in out-of-home placements.
  • Some of the savings associated with the policy shock were undermined by the costs associated with out-of-home placements.

The impact of income on reunification among families with children in out-of-home care, JoAnn S. Lee, Jennifer L. Romich, Ji Young Kang, Jennifer L. Hook, Maureen O. Marcenko.


  • The causal role of earnings and cash benefit on reunification was examined.
  • We found higher earnings are modestly associated with a lower probability of reunification.
  • The impact of cash benefit income we detected is not statistically significant.
  • Our findings suggest parents struggle to keep low-wage jobs and comply with child welfare.
  • Further research is warranted exploring the causal role of employment on reunification.

Making parents pay: The unintended consequences of charging parents for foster care, Maria Cancian, Steven T. Cook, Mai Seki, Lynn Wimer.


  • The majority of families with a child in foster care have pre-existing child support orders.
  • New orders are established for 38% of nonresident fathers and 22% of resident mothers.
  • The establishment of new orders is associated with longer time spent in foster care.
  • Our causal model shows $100 more in orders extends foster care by 6.6 months.

The effect of monthly stipend on the placement instability of youths in out-of-home care, Jessica Pac.


  • A potential cause of placement disruption are Foster Care Maintenance Payments.
  • The likelihood of disruption appears to be decreased by 27% following a 1% increase in stipend.
  • Stipend size affects kinship caregivers more than non-relative foster caregivers.

The potential educational benefits of extending foster care to young adults: Findings from a natural experiment, Mark E. Courtney, Jennifer L. Hook.


  • Foster youths' educational attainment could be supported by extending foster care to age 21.
  • We assess the relationship between extended care and education through age 26 through relying on between-state variation.
  • The estimated odds of moving to the next level of education is increased by 46% for each additional year in care.
  • Educational attainment is also predicted by youths' characteristics and experiences in care.

Employment outcomes of young parents who age out of foster care, Amy Dworsky, Elissa Gitlow.


  • Our study examined administrative data for 1,943 youths who were recently emancipated and were the parent of at least one child.
  • During the first four quarters after exit, only half of the parents were ever employed; most of those who worked were inconsistently employed; and employed parents' earnings were very low.
  • Several demographic and placement history characteristics were linked to an increase or decrease in the odds of being employed and/or with earnings.

Adverse childhood experiences and life opportunities: Shifting the narrative, Marilyn Metzler, Melissa T. Merrick, Joanne Klevens, Katie A. Ports, Derek C. Ford.


  • Adult education, employment, and income potential are negatively associated with adverse childhood experiences.
  • Critical to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty is understanding how early adversity might have lingering effects across the life course.
  • Societies seeking to achieve their full health, social, and economic potential must assure the healthy development of all children.

Funding for this conference was made possible in part by grant number AE000102 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Funding from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago is also gratefully acknowledged.