Thursday, August 24, 2017

Another study documents the transformative power of cash

It also illustrates child welfare’s tendency to confuse poverty with “neglect.”

Behold!  A revolutionary new program to prevent child neglect!

“The rich are different from you and me.”
“Yes. They have more money”
--Exchange attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway,

Want to cut the rate of child “neglect” in America by ten percent? You don’t need another task force or study commission, you don’t need to hire more caseworkers, you don’t need a predictive analytics algorithm and you don’t need to put more families under surveillance and shovel them into meaningless counseling and parent education.

All you need is cash.

Specifically, raise the minimum wage by just $1 an hour.

That’s the finding of a new study from researchers at the University of Indiana and the University of Connecticut.

According to Indiana University’s press release on the study, the researchers

reached their conclusions by analyzing nine years of child maltreatment reports from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. More than 30 states had minimum wages exceeding the federal requirement by an average of $1 during the study period, allowing the researchers to track changes in the number of reports to child protective service agencies with increases in the minimum wage. …
"Money matters," [study co-author Lindsey Rose] Bullinger said. "When caregivers have more disposable income, they're better able to provide a child's basic needs such as clothing, food, medical care and a safe home. Policies that increase the income of the working poor can improve children's welfare, especially younger children, quite substantially."

It is, of course, a testament to the willful blindness of the child welfare system, and its obsession with treating what we define as child neglect as a public health problem instead of a social justice problem, that people in child welfare even need studies to tell them that parents do better at providing basic needs for their children when they have more money.

The findings are consistent with other studies

This is not the only study to reach similar conclusions. 

As this latest study notes:

The direction and magnitude of our results are consistent with what others have found. Cancian et al. (2013) found that only a modest increase in income of $100 per year reduced the likelihood of a child maltreatment report by 2 percentage points. Moreover, Berger, Font, Slack, and Waldfogel (2013) found that a $1000 increase in income via the EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] decreased the probability of CPS involvement by 7–10%.

And here’s a story about another study documenting the transformative power of cash.

The latest study also is still more evidence of the single biggest problem in child welfare: the confusion of poverty with neglect. After all, if child welfare systems weren’t confusing poverty itself with neglect, then simply ameliorating poverty would not reduce neglect. Yet, lo and behold, it does! Or rather, it reduces what child protective services agencies label neglect.

Of course, if you actually did refocus child abuse prevention on alleviating poverty there’d also be an income reduction problem: A lot of counselors, parent educators and assorted other professionals who provide help that makes the helpers feel good, instead of what really helps families, would have to find other jobs.

The Indiana University-University of Connecticut study is part of a “special issue” of a child welfare journal “on the economic causes and consequences of child maltreatment.”

But the real answer doesn’t need an entire scholarly journal. It’s simple:

The poor are different from you and me. They have less money.