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Providing Food Aid May Help to Prevent Child Abuse

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which assists more than 39 million people in avoiding food insecurity, has a surprising advantage: it might help stop child abuse.

According to a recent 14-year countrywide study, there were fewer children involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) and placed in foster care in states with more liberal SNAP laws and, consequently, more adults signing up for the program.

A state’s CPS and foster care caseloads were lowered by between 7.6 per cent and 14.3 per cent when the number of families receiving SNAP benefits increased by 5 per cent, according to the study’s findings.

Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, a professor of social work at The Ohio State University and the study’s primary author, said, “We recognized that SNAP had an essential influence in reducing food insecurity and hunger among children.”

“Our findings indicate that SNAP investments may be considerably more beneficial to children’s health than we previously thought,” the authors write.

The research was released in the JAMA Network Open journal today, July 13, 2022.

By the time they turn 18 years old, over 37% of American children have had a CPS investigation as a result of a child abuse referral. More than 250,000 kids are placed in foster care annually.

Johnson-Motoyama stated that state legislators who are concerned about budgets should pay particular attention to the findings.

The expenses of having children involved with CPS and having them placed in foster care, according to her, are enormous. It is far less expensive and can save states a significant amount of money to provide dietary benefits to individuals.

A federal COVID-19 emergency declaration that increased SNAP payments are slated to expire this month, making the results of this study particularly pertinent at this time. If the proclamation is allowed to expire, SNAP benefits will be reduced for roughly 700,000 low-income people in Ohio alone.


“Families with little resources who depend on the program to help provide meals may experience a lot of stress as a result. This may hurt children and add to the workload of CPS staff, according to our findings,” Johnson-Motoyama stated.

In a statistical analysis from 2004 to 2016, the researchers looked at how state SNAP regulations affected CPS and foster care outcomes over time.

They used information for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the SNAP Policy Database, and the SNAP State Options Reports.

SNAP benefits are paid for by the federal government, but Johnson-Motoyama said states have a lot of freedom in how they run the program and decide who qualifies.

States can decide which of several SNAP policies to enact, for instance. One is broad-based category eligibility, which allows states to lift the income eligibility thresholds just a little bit so that working families with modest incomes can still be eligible.

Other ones include exempting child support payments from income restrictions and providing households leaving the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program with transitional benefits.

Researchers looked at the number of SNAP-related policies each state had undertaken and found that those with more policies to expand eligibility had fewer children in CPS and foster care.

Johnson-Motoyama stated, “We discovered that the number of policies introduced had cumulative effects beyond any particular policy effect.

Therefore, states’ contributions to lowering CPS and foster care caseloads increased in proportion to how helpful they were.

The number of child abuse allegations accepted for CPS investigation was reduced by 352 per 100,000 children—from 557 to 158 per 100,000—due to a higher state count of income generosity rules.

The possibility of child abuse has significantly decreased. We were really taken aback by how resilient the results were to other plausible causes that might have contributed to these effects, she added.

“Even after accounting for variables like the opioid epidemic’s impact and the impact of other safety net programs in states, we still showed that the SNAP changes had significant influence.”

Findings demonstrated that providing transitory SNAP benefits to families exiting TANF led to especially significant estimated decreases in reports of child abuse that would otherwise result in foster care and CPS participation.

Families that unintentionally leave the TANF program after using up all of their benefits may be the cause of this.

“The financial strain of losing TANF payments, especially if parents are unemployed, may raise risks connected to child maltreatment,” she stated. SNAP payments may reduce some of that stress.

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Overall, the findings showed that by extending the program’s eligibility to more people and increasing the number of recipients of benefits, SNAP regulations helped to decrease the participation of CPS and foster care.

Increasing access to SNAP benefits should receive more consideration from politicians, according to Johnson-Motoyama.

This is strong proof that enhancing food security for low-income households benefits children and is fiscally responsible for states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the research.

The University of Maryland, The University of Kansas, and Ohio State all contributed as co-authors.

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