NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Child Welfare

October 31, 2000

While enrollment in the cash-assistance program formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has fallen 50 percent over the past six years -- to less than 2.5 million families -- little attention has been paid to a much more costly program: child welfare.

  • In 1995, the federal government spent about $11,698 per child in foster care, whereas it spent only $1,012 for each person receiving welfare benefits.
  • Factoring in what the state pays, the cost increases even further to $21,092 per child in foster care versus $2,499 for each person receiving a welfare check.
  • More than 119,000 children entered foster care in 1999, bringing the total number of children being taken care of by government to 547,000.

Anyone who cares for a foster child is paid a monthly stipend, which varies from state to state. Generally, the stipend is more generous than a monthly welfare check. Once a child is placed in foster care, social workers must decide the best plan for that child.

  • For 41 percent of the children, the recommendation is for them eventually to return home.
  • Unfortunately, the average length of stay in foster care is just less than three years and 18 percent are in foster care for five or more years.
  • Currently 27 percent of all foster children are placed with a relative, and such placements are not subject to time limits for return home or adoption.

But one study suggests that more than 30 percent of all children sent back home to their families eventually re-enter foster care because of further abuse or neglect.

Source: Susan Orr, "Children Under Government's Wing: Not Much Protection," Insight No. 223, July 21, 2000, Family Research Council, 801 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 393-2100.


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