Abstract: Can an Economic Support Intervention with Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment Reduce Child Protective Services (CPS) Intervention? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Can an Economic Support Intervention with Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment Reduce Child Protective Services (CPS) Intervention?

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Aaron Reilly, BA, Project Assistant, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI
Lawrence Berger, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Kristen Slack, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background and purpose: A strong and consistent association exists between multiple indicators of family poverty and child maltreatment, but few studies have been able to discern whether such associations are causal.  In Milwaukee County, Project GAIN (“Getting Access to Income Now”) was designed to offer a package of short-term (i.e., 4-6 weeks) economic supports—emergency assistance, advocacy around access to means-tested government benefits, and assistance with employment, housing, and financial decision-making—to families reported to and investigated by CPS in Milwaukee County, but who did not receive ongoing CPS intervention as a result of an investigation. These families were randomly assigned to a treatment condition (the offer of Project GAIN) or control condition (no services).  The present analysis reports initial findings related to re-involvement with CPS within a one-year period following randomization.

Methods: 5,840 families were randomly assigned to the treatment and control conditions at a  ratio ranging from 1:1 to 3:1, depending on the service capacity of the program over time. Two cohorts were analyzed separately: (1) an initial or “early” cohort that was restricted to families with at least one child five years of age or younger, and a subsequent or “later” cohort, where these child age restrictions were lifted.  Intent-to-treat (ITT) and treatment-on-treated (TOT) analyses were conducted, controlling for a set of baseline family characteristics.

Results: An intent-to-treat analysis revealed no differences between treatment and control groups in the early cohort, and a modest difference in post-randomization CPS involvement, with the treatment group demonstrating favorable results. This decline was most pronounced in families with lower baseline incomes, which were approximated by summing earnings, child support income, and TANF, unemployment insurance, and SNAP benefits.  Treatment-on-treated analyses to assess the impact of more frequent home visits again showed program effects in the expected direction, which were more pronounced in the families with lowest incomes.  Across all analyses, no statistically significant differences emerged.

Conclusions and implications: These findings, although not statistically significant, suggest that providing economic support to families at risk of child maltreatment, especially those with lower incomes, may be a promising preventive tool for CPS intervention.  The short-term and limited nature of the intervention produced results that trended in the hypothesized direction.  Future interventions that provide longer and more intensive economic supports, or that integrate the Project GAIN model in other evidence-based prevention programs, are in need of testing.