Welfare Sanctions and Child Protective Services (CPS) Involvement

Member: Kristen S. Slack
(University of Wisconsin - Madison)
View more resources by Kristen S. Slack
Endorsements: 1

This research focuses on the role of "sanctions" as a policy lever in welfare programs during the 1990s, specifically Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  Sanction threats, imposed sanctions that result in benefit reductions, and benefit reductions for other reasons are all explored as potential risk factors for child protective services (CPS) involvement in a sample of 1,260 TANF recipient families. We were also able to control for certain types of compensatory income that might offset the effects of a grant reduction. 

Results showed that imposed TANF sanctions increase the risk of having a neglect report to CPS that is investigated, but imposed sanctions do not elevate the risk of having an indicated (i.e., substantiated) neglect report. Experiencing other types of welfare grant reductions does increase the risk of an indicated report, however.  While results from this study cannot conclude that welfare sanctions are the cause of any increased risk for CPS involvement or child maltreatment per se, they and other types of welfare grant reductions do appear to be associated with severe hardships for some families. Structural aspects of our U.S. social welfare safety net systems that push familes into deeper end systems like CPS should be urgently addressed. 

This article can generate class discussion about the potential harms and unintended consequences of sanctions when they are used as a behavioral tool with economically disadvantaged populations.  Given that the current political landscape in the United States is once again focused on welfare programs, revisiting the role of sanctions during the welfare reforms of the mid-1990s can shed important light on the current debates regarding the U.S. social safety net.

If you do use this article in a course, it would help me to have feedback on the experience. You can use the feedback function on Prof2Prof to do so.

Consider using in conjunction with Lee, Slack & Lewis (2004) article on "Welfare Sanctions, Work, and Material Hardship".

If you can't access this article, please send me a message at ksslack@wisc.edu or message me on Prof2Prof.


Free to use with citation
Last Revised Date 
Thu, 09/30/2021 - 14:33
Keywords / Tags 
child maltreatment
child protection
child welfare
Type of resource 
Published Article or Book Chapter
Resource Institution 
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Institution Type 
4 or 4+ year College/University
Recommended Citation 

Slack, K.S., Lee, B.J., and Berger, L. (2007). Do Welfare Sanctions Increase Child Protective Services Involvement? A Cautious Answer. Social Service Review, 81(2), 207-228. DOI: 10.1086/516831