Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers. 2.3 Growing Proportions of TANF Child-Only Cases


With the passing of PRWORA in 1996, much control of the public welfare system has devolved to states. Decentralization, state control, and the proliferation of different approaches to eligibility, work requirements, and time limits were among the intended consequences of the legislation (Blum and Francis, 2002; Hegar and Scannapieco, 2000). States have responded to PRWORA with a variety of welfare rules, services, and benefits, making it difficult to evaluate and analyze what is behind national trends as they occur (U.S. GAO, 2002).

TANF child-only cases have more than doubled as a share of the TANF caseload, from about 10 percent to more than 20 percent from 1996 to 2001.

One such trend is that of the increasing proportion of child-only cases in the TANF caseload. While the number of child-only cases has fluctuated over time, their proportionate share of the TANF caseload has increased, as shown in Figure 2-1. The number of child-only families increased steadily throughout the middle 1990s, reaching a peak of 978,000 such families in fiscal year 1996. Through fiscal year 1998, the number of child-only families decreased to 743,000, although their proportion of the caseload continued to increase slowly to 23.4 percent from 21.5 percent in FY 1996. Since fiscal year 1998, both the number and the proportion of child-only cases have increased each year, with approximately 786,932 child-only cases in fiscal year 2001, comprising 37.2 percent of the total TANF caseload. Therefore, while child-only cases have not grown consistently in absolute numbers, they are becoming an increasing proportion of the overall TANF caseload.

Figure 2-1.
Number of Child-Only Cases and Proportion of the TANF Caseload.

Number of Child-Only Cases and Proportion of the TANF Caseload.

Sources: Charlesworth et al., (n.d.); DHHS, 2002a; DHHS, 2003.

Of the 786,982 child-only cases in FY 2001, just over 50 percent are child-only cases in which someone other than the parent is caring for the child (typically a relative). The focus of this study is on these child-only cases with relative caregivers.

While the increase in child-only cases across the nation has caught the attention of both federal and state officials, variations in related rules, services, and benefits make them difficult to assess at the national level. As a result, several recent studies have concentrated on characterizing and examining child-only cases at the state level.

  • The Lewin Group (Farrell et al., 2000) studied child-only cases in three states (California, Florida, and Missouri) for DHHS. The study described the characteristics of the 1999 child-only caseload and found increasing proportions of child-only cases in the three counties it investigated - Alameda County (Oakland), California; Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida; and Jackson County (Kansas City), Missouri.
  • Marilyn Edelhoch (2002), director for research and evaluation with the South Carolina Department of Social Services, recently examined child-only cases in South Carolina. In that state, the TANF caseload dropped 70 percent between 1994 and 2001; consequently, child-only cases grew to represent half of the remaining caseload.
  • Wood and Strong (2002), of Mathematica Policy Research Inc., examined caseload trends in New Jersey. From 1995 to 2001, the total number of TANF cases in New Jersey dropped more than 60 percent, while the number of child-only TANF cases declined by only 25 percent. As a result, the proportion of the TANF caseload consisting of child-only cases increased substantially, from 17 percent in 1995 to 33 percent in 2001.
  • Schofield and Fein (2000), as part of Abt Associates Inc.'s ongoing evaluation of Delaware's A Better Chance Welfare Reform Program (ABC), investigated and analyzed trends, characteristics, and policy impacts for the state's child-only cases. They found that the proportion of child-only cases in Delaware had increased to 35 percent by September 1998.
  • The California Department of Social Services (2001) implemented an initiative to examine the child-only cases present in CalWORKs (California's TANF program). The percentage of CalWORKs cases that are child-only has increased over the past few years, from 19.2 percent in October 1995 to 31.8 percent for fiscal year 1999.
  • Finally, Dean Duncan, working with the North Carolina Department of Social Services, examined child-only cases in North Carolina. While Work First (North Carolina's TANF program) cases have fallen sharply over the last 7 years, the number of child-only cases has fallen only gradually, increasing the proportion of the caseload represented by child-only cases (Duncan, 2002).

Increasing proportions of child-only cases are seen in caseloads reported by other states, although patterns vary dramatically among states. Child-only cases represent a major share of the TANF caseload in some states and a much smaller proportion in others. As depicted in Table 2-1, in 2001, child-only cases made up more than half the TANF caseloads in seven states (Alabama, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) and 45 to 50 percent in eight others (Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina). In the same year, however, child-only cases made up less than 20 percent of the TANF caseloads in four states (Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont) (DHHS, 2003).

Table 2-1.
Child-Only Cases as a Percentage of Total TANF Caseload,
October 2000 - September 2001
State Total Families Child-Only Families Percent
U.S. Total 2,120,474 786,932 37.2
Alabama 18,368 9,477 51.6
Alaska 5,818 1,078 18.5
Arizona 33,478 15,194 45.4
Arkansas 11,625 4,872 41.9
California 473,616 196,717 41.5
Colorado 10,640 4,416 41.5
Connecticut 25,650 8,874 34.6
Delaware 5,448 2,368 43.5
District of Columbia 16,337 4,280 26.2
Florida 58,850 34,113 58.0
Georgia 50,636 25,192 49.8
Hawaii 12,852 2,067 16.1
Idaho 1,291 950 73.6
Illinois 62,031 33,582 38.0
Indiana 41,186 9,066 22.0
Iowa 20,152 4,817 23.9
Kansas 213,024 4,282 32.9
Kentucky 36,127 14,801 41.0
Louisiana 25,176 11,626 46.2
Maine 9,663 2,359 24.4
Maryland 27,957 11,007 39.4
Massachusetts 42,368 16,418 38.8
Michigan 71,746 25,553 35.8
Minnesota 38,558 8,111 21.0
Mississippi 15,858 7,758 49.5
Missouri 45,557 12,350 27.2
Montana 5,002 1,036 20.7
Nebraska 9,487 3,233 34.1
Nevada 7,439 3,437 46.2
New Hampshire 5,859 1,604 28.3
New Jersey 45,320 17,404 38.4
New Mexico 19,323 4,115 21.3
New York 226,390 64,115 28.3
North Carolina 42,555 21,641 50.9
North Dakota 2,991 795 26.6
Ohio 85,005 37,964 44.7
Oklahoma 14,473 6,520 45.0
Oregon 15,868 7,530 47.5
Wisconsin 17,680 11,714 66.3
Wyoming 520 366 70.4
Pennsylvania 81,600 26,214 32.1
Rhode Island 15,227 2,764 18.2
South Carolina 16,939 7,825 46.2
South Dakota 2,714 1,505 55.5
Tennessee 59,541 17,999 30.2
Texas 131,997 45,005 34.1
Utah 7,488 2,447 32.7
Vermont 5,523 942 17.1
Virginia 29,271 12,847 43.9
Washington 54,161 17,192 31.7
West Virginia 14,732 4,335 29.4
Sources: DHHS, 2003.

Many states have seen an increase in their TANF child-only caseloads. Montana reported an increase of 15 percent in their child-only caseload from 2000 to 2001, Arizona reported an increase of 16 percent from July 2000 to July 2001, and Pennsylvania reported an increase (although slight) each month since July 2001(DHHS, 2002b). Additionally, Nevada reported an increase of 8 percent in their child-only caseload for fiscal year 2001. Iowa reported a 3 percent increase; Nebraska, a 3.3 percent increase; Kansas, a 3.8 percent increase; and Missouri, a 6.7 percent increase during the same time period (DHHS, 2002b).

A critical caveat to better understanding the growth of child-only cases is while the proportion of child-only cases is increasing nationally, the absolute number is relatively stable, from 743,000 in fiscal year 1998 to 787,000 in fiscal year 2001 (DHHS, 2002b). In fact, in many states child-only cases have remained stable, if not declined (Edelhoch, 2002; Farrell et al., 2000; Wood and Strong, 2002; Schofield and Fein, 2000) in the past several years, although a few states have had modest absolute increases in their child-only caseloads. No state is able to identify a single reason for the proportional increase in child-only cases, but the significant decline in the general TANF caseload appears to be the largest factor (from 4,553,000 in fiscal year 1996 to 2,121,000 in fiscal year 2001) (DHHS, 2002b).

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