Child Trends has released the new biennial report on state spending on child welfare, Child Welfare Financing SFY 2018, and it shows little dramatic difference from previous years. Total child welfare agency expenditures increased by 6 percent from SFY 2016 to SFY 2018, but only by 2 percent over the past decade. That may not be surprising since the decade experienced continued decreases in foster care number until 2012 when opioids started to have an impact. Overall foster care numbers in 2009 compared to 2019 were almost identical at 423,000 children in care—but the numbers did decrease at one point to approximately 400,000.  


According to the Child Trends report, child welfare agencies in 42 states reported spending a collective $3.0 billion in federal TANF funds on child welfare services. Nine states reported that their child welfare agencies did not use TANF dollars for child welfare activities that year. This represents a 6 percent increase in expenditures from SFY 2016. The direction and magnitude of change varied among states: 21 states reported an increase (ranging from 1% to 3,658%), and 20 states reported a decrease (ranging from 1% 


Since these state surveys began two decades ago, HHS has updated and required a more detailed set of data elements through the annual TANF reports. That new data indicate that states spent $3.2 billion in TANF funds in FY 2018 on various child welfare services, with that total increasing significantly to $3.5 billion in 2019. Neither of these figures includes the more than $1.1 billion in TANF that is transferred into SSBG.  


The single biggest total in TANF block grant spending for child welfare is the $1.782 billion spent on what are essentially Title IV-B programs for family preservation, reunification, family support, and adoption support. The two Title IV-B provides approximately $600 million in FY 2019—although the Child Trends report indicates states are spending only $525 million in state fiscal year 2018. It is not clear why the difference between federal appropriations and actual state reports but some of it could be due to reports based on state fiscal years vs the federal fiscal year or possibly state allocating some of the IV-B funds to programs that may not be labeled child welfare such as home visiting and other primary prevention efforts. The TANF report also indicates that over a billion is spent on subsidized guardianships, foster care maintenance, and adoption assistance, although the data is not broken down by the three categories.


Both the Child Trends report and the TANF report show relatively the same number of states not spending TANF on child welfare spending. The 2019 TANF report indicates that the states of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee as the only states not to spend TANF funds directly on child welfare services. 


In 2019 states also spent a total of no less than $510 million in SSBG funds on categories clearly considered child welfare, such as foster care and child protective services. States also spent over $104 million on “primary” prevention services. In addition to the SSBG funds, TANF funds transferred into SSBG and then spent on child welfare services added another $570 million, including $293 million for CPS and $194 million in primary prevention.


That would make SSBG and its TANF transfer the single biggest funding source for both child protective services-CPS ($430 million) and primary prevention ($298 million). For a closer look at the TANF data, go here.