Does Inflation Impact the Child Welfare System?

Posted by MST Services

Jan 12, 2023 9:00:00 AM

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In 2016, The United States Department of Health and Human Services defined affordable childcare costs as 7% of a household’s income. According to a 2020 survey by Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA), married couples in the median income bracket spent over 10% of their income on childcare while single parents with similar income spent 35%. 

More recent data from CCAoA found that childcare in the US now exceeds $13,000 per year for a single child. In most states, caring for two small children costs 28-100% more than annual housing costs. 

As inflation continues to rise in the US, it becomes increasingly important for parents to equip themselves with tools to handle financial hardship adequately and have the energy to manage their child’s behaviors that, left unaddressed, could lead to out-of-home child placement.  

How Economic Hardship Affects Child Welfare 

Research shows that there is a relationship between economic hardship and child maltreatment. “In the United States, children living in financially strained households are at five times greater risk for child abuse and neglect compared to children from families with higher socio-economic status,” states a 2017 study. 

Parents in economic distress aren’t automatically “bad parents.” However, evidence shows that when parents struggle financially, they are often more likely to face barriers that increase the difficulty of caring for their families. This can be due to many factors such as working multiple jobs, poor working conditions and non-standard work schedules, and coping with their physical and mental health problems with lack of or limited access to health care services. They may turn to substance use or other unhealthy coping mechanisms in an attempt to ease the stress caused from trying to make ends meet for their families. 

As a result, children who live in poverty are more likely to experience health problems, have behavioral issues, and struggle in school. And for some children, the effects of living in poor neighborhoods or family stress can contribute to abuse or neglect that results in out-of-home placement. 

With 18% of youth in the United States currently living below the poverty line, stagnant wages, and the rising cost of living, many children are at greater risk of maltreatment and foster care placement as a result unless their parents receive adequate support. 


Family Preservation Programs 

Family preservation programs are designed to help prevent foster care placement by keeping children with their biological parents when possible. The goal is to support families as they learn new ways of parenting and address challenges, like unemployment, mental health concerns, or substance abuse. 

One such program is Multisystemic Therapy for Child Abuse and Neglect (MST-CAN). MST-CAN uses the principles of family therapy to help children overcome their traumatic experiences and gain skills to prevent further abuse or neglect from happening later in life. It also helps parents learn how to protect their children from maltreatment by teaching them how to cope with stress, manage anger, improve communication skills, and resolve conflict peacefully. 

It is important to recognize that parents living in poverty may be less able to access necessary services or support networks that could help prevent child maltreatment and foster care placement. For example, they may not have access to transportation or may have difficulty finding time off from work to attend appointments with social workers or therapists who could help them improve their parenting skills and avoid future contact with the child welfare system. 

Under the Family First Act, organizations can provide MST-CAN at no cost to qualifying families. 


MST and the Family First Act  

The Family First Act defines three tiers of programs: promising, supported, and well-supported.  

  • Promising programs have at least one controlled study demonstrating the positive effects of treatment.  
  • Supported programs use at least one trial to show superior effectiveness to a comparable treatment program 
  • Well-supported programs have at least two trials indicating superiority to treatment as usual. 

MST has been determined to be a well-supported program under the Family First Act. As such, states are eligible to receive a federal funding match and can bypass a federal evaluation process, saving time and money.  

When parents are unable to provide for their children, they often feel stressed and overwhelmed. Some parents may be physically or emotionally unable to care for their children, while others may have trouble coping with the demands of parenting. 

Under the Family First Act, parents can receive Multisystemic Therapy at no cost, so they can build protective factors, such as improved parenting skills and increased family connectedness. This can help give families the tools they need to stay together at home, avoid foster care placement, and grow together as a healthy family unit. 


Multisystemic Therapy for Child Abuse and Neglect (MST-CAN) is an evidence-based program for families at risk of child welfare system involvement. MST-CAN effectively treats youth and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of services within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs which could include but is not limited to the following types of interventions: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/ Vocational Support. 


If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, contact us here. 








Topics: Multisystemic Therapy, Child Welfare