TANF and Child Welfare Programs: Increased Data Sharing Could Improve Access to Benefits and Services

GAO-12-2 Published: Oct 07, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2011.
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In 2010, over 40 percent of families receiving cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program were "child-only," meaning the adults in the household were not included in the benefit calculation, and aid was provided only for the children. TANF and child welfare programs provide cash assistance and other services that support children living with nonparent caregivers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF) oversees TANF and child welfare programs, which are administered by states. GAO was asked to examine the (1) trends and composition of the child-only caseload, (2) characteristics of caregivers and children in nonparent child-only cases, (3) factors influencing the level of benefits and services for children with non-parent caregivers, and (4) coordination efforts between state TANF and child welfare programs. GAO analyzed federal TANF and child welfare data; surveyed states; interviewed HHS officials and researchers; and conducted site visits in Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, selected for variation in TANF caseload characteristics and implementation of programs to support relative caregivers.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Health and Human Services To help states share data between TANF and child welfare information systems operating within states, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct ACF to clarify its guidance and provide additional technical assistance to states on data sharing opportunities. For example, the HHS-funded National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology could collect information from states that are successfully sharing data, including how they addressed concerns about client confidentiality, and disseminate that information to all states.
Closed – Implemented
HHS agreed with our recommendation and initially indicated that it would provide additional guidance to states and tribes concerning the ability to share information between Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and child welfare agencies. In August 2014, HHS' Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published a document called the Confidentiality Toolkit, which provides examples of how state TANF and child welfare agencies can share information in a manner fully consistent with governing laws and underlying policies. The toolkit also includes sample Memoranda of Understandings and data sharing agreements. In addition, ACF issued in September 2015 an Information Memorandum from the Children's Bureau and the Office of Family Assistance to the states encouraging TANF agencies and Title IV-E and IV-B agencies to coordinate, collaborate, and share data on the children and families they serve. It reminds TANF programs that federal law and rules allow for data sharing between TANF and child welfare as well as acknowledges that TANF and child welfare agencies often serve the same families. It also reminds title IV-B and IV-E child welfare agencies that there are no specific federal barriers to child welfare agencies exchanging information with TANF agencies.

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