An Unexpected Path to Reducing Child Abuse and Neglect Investigations Nationwide
Increased eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been found to reduce the number of child protective services (CPS) investigations of suspected child abuse and neglect nationwide. SNAP is a federal program that provides a monthly benefit to eligible households to assist with the cost of purchasing food and reducing food insecurity.
Federal guidelines for SNAP established baseline rules and regulations for eligibility. These include that household incomes cannot exceed 130% of the federal poverty level and household assets cannot exceed $2,250, with some modifications for households with an elderly person or a person with a disability. However, under a policy called broad-based categorical eligibility (BBCE), states can opt to eliminate the asset test or increase the income limit for SNAP eligibility.
A team of UNC experts examined state-level data from 2006-2019 to understand how state elimination of the asset test or increases in the income limit for SNAP eligibility impacted their rate of CPS-investigated reports. The study results showed a clear reduction in CPS investigations, particularly for neglect, when eligibility for SNAP was expanded. These reductions were observed for both Black and White non-Hispanic children, and the magnitude increased over time.
An article explaining the results, titled, Association of State Expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Program Eligibility With Rates of Child Protective Services-Investigated Reports, was published in January 2023 by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics).
When asked about these findings, Anna Austin, PhD, assistant professor of Maternal and Child Health, core faculty at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center and lead researcher on this study stated, “This research adds to growing evidence that shows how adopting measures that help families meet their basic needs, promote healthy child development and positive family outcomes.”
This study was conducted with an R01 research grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health.