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October 2018Vol. 19, No. 8Improving Child Welfare Outcomes: Balancing Investments in Prevention and Treatment

Child maltreatment and subsequent involvement in the child welfare system can have far-reaching negative effects on children and youth that can last into adulthood, increasing their risk for financial instability, involvement in the criminal justice system, substance use, and homelessness. In addition, child maltreatment and its related prevention and treatment services can cost society approximately $80 billion annually.

A report produced by the RAND Corporation discusses a study in which researchers used a model to simulate maltreatment and its detection; describe the movement of children through the child welfare system; estimate the societal costs of providing prevention, treatment, and kinship care; and estimate how maltreatment and contact with the child welfare system affect outcomes in early adulthood in order to determine how to focus policies to achieve the best outcomes.

Researchers focused on the following three decision points in the model:

  • Preventive services to keep children from entering foster care because of maltreatment
  • Family preservation treatment services designed to provide services and supports aimed at keeping families together
  • Kinship care treatment efforts to support kinship caregivers

These decision points affected the number of children involved in the child welfare system, how they moved through the system, their outcomes, and the costs of the services provided.

The study findings include the following:

  • Expanding both prevention and treatment efforts in the simulation model led to a reduction in maltreatment and the number of children entering care, improvement in children's experiences moving through the child welfare system, improvement in outcomes in young adulthood, and a reduction in total lifetime expenditures on preventive and child welfare services.
  • Combining expanded prevention and treatment services in the form of support for kinship care led to a net cost reduction of 3 to 7 percent (or approximately $5.2 billion to $10.5 billion saved) of total lifetime spending for the group of children studied.
  • Combining prevention, treatment, and kinship care efforts led to reduced maltreatment, improved children's experiences in the system, improved outcomes, and reduced expenditures.

Improving Child Welfare Outcomes: Balancing Investments in Prevention and Treatment is available at (1,680 KB).

Related Item

How the Child-Welfare System Could Protect More Kids and Save Billions of Dollars (RAND,