The Social Welfare Policy Landscape and Child Protective Services: Opportunities for and Barriers to Creating Systems Synergy


Megan Feely, Kerri M. Raissian, William Schneider, Lindsey Rose Bullinger

First Published January 29, 2021; pp. 140–161


Contemporary child welfare policies in the United States are well-suited for prevention of child abuse but fail to account for the relationship between family financial hardship and neglect, that is, the lack of safe and consistent care. We argue that rates of child neglect have been stagnant because of two failures: (1) lack of recognition of financial hardship as a causal mechanism of neglect and (2) federal policy that purposefully omits alleviation of financial hardship as a solution to the occurrence of neglect. Because U.S. antipoverty programs operate independently of one another, our siloed policy structure misses opportunities for the alleviation of child maltreatment and, worse, creates negative and unintended consequences in child welfare. We present a model for change: systems synergy for the promotion of safe and consistent care that makes reduction of child maltreatment the responsibility of every social service program in the United States.