Child Welfare Finance Reform

The federal child welfare financing system has serious flaws. Take, for example, the irrational vestige of previous years, the so-called “look back” provision, which bars any federal reimbursement for services provided to abused or neglected children removed from parents earning more than the federal poverty line as it existed in 1996. This archaic law allows the federal government to avoid all financial responsibility for now over half of all children in foster care, based on a bizarre link to a poverty level that is both outmoded by inflation and unrelated to any need or justification for the proper care of an abused or neglected child. This baffling provision has not been corrected in over twenty years, and the result is that increasing numbers of children are denied federal financial support while in foster care, heaping the entire financial burden on states—and even more concerning, providing a financial disincentive to remove children at imminent risk of harm.

CAI's work in this area includes the following:

  • In 2018, CAI released a white paper on child welfare finance reform, a comprehensive analysis on the need for federal child welfare finance reform. A White Paper on America’s Family Values: The Facts about Child Maltreatment and the Child Welfare Financing System highlights how Congress is engaged in “bipartisan neglect” when it comes to enforcing and fully funding existing laws that are designed to protect the nation’s most vulnerable children. “Protecting the nation’s children from abuse and neglect should be a no-brainer, regardless of political party,” said Robert Fellmeth, Executive Director of CAI and the Price Professor of Public Interest Law at University of San Diego School of Law. “Democrats embrace state assistance for those with diminished opportunity and Republicans espouse basic family values as a core principle. So where’s the disconnect? These children are not someone else’s children, they are children of the state—they are ‘ours’ as a nation, beyond metaphor.”