Methods: This study followed established scoping review methods. A set of relevant terms were used to search across seven databases including PubMed and PsycINFO. After deduplication, 463 articles were each reviewed by two of the authors for inclusion or exclusion. We retained articles if they reported findings from a quantitative study that assessed the effect of a governmental credit or transfer in the United States (city, county, state, or federal level) with child maltreatment or a proxy (e.g., CPS reports) as the dependent variable. Studies in which receipt of tax credits or income transfers were used solely as a proxy for income level were excluded.
Results: We identified 22 studies that evaluated the capacity of governmental tax credits and transfers to reduce the incidence of child maltreatment. The following credits and transfers were evaluated: AFDC, EITC, TANF, SNAP, housing subsidies and vouchers, child care subsidies, the Federal Child Tax Credit, and WIC. In terms of analysis, 12 studies (55%) assessed credits and transfers at the individual or family level, while the other 10 studies used geographic area (e.g., county, state, etc.). Nearly all studies (n = 19; 86%) detected an effect for credits and transfers on the incidence of child maltreatment. In general, provision of credits and transfers reduced the incidence of child maltreatment, while the discontinuation of these credits and transfers was shown to heighten the risk of maltreatment.
Conclusions and implications: The findings from the current study suggests that research on the capacity of governmental credits and transfers to prevent child maltreatment continues to increase, and with promising results. The wide range of transfers and credits that were found to reduce the incidence of both child physical abuse and neglect indicate that a robust social welfare system is likely to play a critical part in the prevention of child maltreatment in the United States. For instance, our findings offer additional support for the benefits of adopting an expanded and permanent federal child allowance. That said, additional research conducted at the individual and/or family level that takes greater advantage of randomization and accounts for the generosity of benefits would be particularly useful in further developing the evidence base in this area.