Child Welfare:

Federal Oversight of State IV-B Activities Could Inform Action Needed to Improve Services to Families and Statutory Compliance

GAO-06-787T: Published: May 23, 2006. Publicly Released: May 23, 2006.

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For federal fiscal year 2004, state and local child protective services staff determined that an estimated 872,000 children have been victims of abuse or neglect. Title IV-B subparts 1 and 2 authorize a wide array of child welfare services with some restrictions on states' use of funds. This testimony discusses: (1) how states used Title IV-B dollars to serve families under subparts 1 and 2; (2) the extent that federal oversight ensured state compliance with spending requirements under subpart 1; and (3) what the research said about the effectiveness of service states have provided to families using Title IV-B funds. This testimony was primarily based on a 2003 report (GAO-03-956).

States used Title IV-B funds to provide a broad range of services to prevent the occurrence of abuse, neglect, and foster care placements in addition to other child welfare services. While there was some overlap, states reported using Title IV-B subpart 1 funds primarily to operate child welfare programs and serve families in the foster care system, while states reported using subpart 2 funds primarily for family services targeted to families at risk of child removal due to abuse or neglect. For example, nearly half of subpart 1 staff costs paid salaries for social worker positions in child protective services. Family services under subpart 2 included those to support, preserve, and reunify families by providing mentoring programs, financial assistance to help with rent and utilities, parenting classes, child care, and support groups. HHS provided relatively little oversight specific to state spending under subpart 1. HHS did not collect data on subpart 1 expenditures and regional officials paid little attention to statutory limits in states' planned use of funds. In response to GAO's survey, 10 states reported actual 2002 subpart 1 expenditures that exceeded the sending limits by over $15 million in total. Research is limited assessing the effectiveness of services provided under Title IV-B. In GAO's survey, 22 states reported providing services other than foster care and adoption assistance payments, staff salaries, or administration under subpart 1; however, none of these states had sufficiently evaluated the outcomes of these services. Similarly, GAO's literature review showed that few evaluations had been conducted, and evaluations that had been conducted showed mixed results. HHS evaluations of subpart 2 services also have shown no or little effect in reducing out-of-home placement, maltreatment recurrence, or improved family functioning beyond what normal casework services achieved.

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