Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload: Policies, Composition, and Characteristics in Three States. Transitions into Child-Only Status


Children receive assistance on child-only cases for a variety of reasons. Some have come to reside with the current caregiver (parent or non-parent) after having received assistance on a previous case with a different caregiver. Some children currently reside with parents while others reside with non-parental caregivers. This section explores the number and paths of different caregivers. In addition, the various factors which led to each type of case being child-only are discussed for each type of caregiver.

A. Number of Different Caregivers

In a majority of cases, focal children have resided with one caregiver while receiving TANF. Yet, a substantial percentage of children living with a non-parental caregiver have been cared for by multiple caregivers. The number of caregivers is illustrated in Exhibit 3.10.

Not surprisingly, children who are currently residing with a non-parental caregiver are more likely to have had multiple caregivers than those children living with a parent. In all three counties, over 95 percent of those children living with a parent have received assistance on that case only. However, as a proportion of those children residing with non-parental caregivers, 43 percent of children in Alameda had multiple caregivers while 39 of children in Duval and 35 percent of children in Jackson had multiple caregivers. A handful of children had three caregivers or more. It is assumed that some children have resided with a greater number of caregivers than indicated in Exhibit 3.10 because they had resided with caregivers who did not receive AFDC/TANF assistance and/or because earlier case files with additional caregivers have been archived or destroyed. The caregivers captured in this study (and in Exhibit 3.10) include only those that received AFDC/TANF with the focal child in the assistance unit.


Exhibit 3.10
Number of Caregivers of Focal Children, by County and Type of Case
  Alameda County Duval County Jackson Countya/
Number of Caregivers (%) Parent Non-Parent Parent Non-Parent Parent Non-Parent
One 99.0 57.0 95.5 61.5 95.2 65.2
Two 1.0 36.7 4.5 32.3 4.8 34.8
Three 0.0 6.3 0.0 5.6 0.0 0.0
Four 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0.0 0.0
Sample size 194 79 90 159 86 153
a/ Case file information was reviewed for the past two caregivers only in Jackson County.


The sequence of the two most recent caregivers of the focal child are outlined in Exhibit 3.11. As depicted, the sequence of caregivers varies by county. A larger portion of children in Alameda (70 percent) have received aid with one parent only, compared to Duval (34 percent) and Jackson (33 percent).

Exhibit 3.11
Sequence of Past Two Caregivers, by County

(Percent of Child-Only Caseload)

Sequence of Past Two Caregivers, by County.


On the other hand, a greater proportion of children in Duval and Jackson have received aid with one non-parental caregiver and have also moved from a parent to a non-parent more than children in Alameda. This largely reflects the greater proportion of parental cases in Alameda. Nearly all of the cases that went from a parental caregiver to a non-parental caregiver were regular TANF cases under the parental caregiver. Those that went from one non-parent to another were generally child-only in both instances.

B. Parental Caregiver Cases

The types of parental cases vary from county to county. According to the case file review, 71 percent of all child-only cases in Alameda County have a parental caregiver while only 36 percent of child-only cases in Duval and Jackson counties have a parental caregiver. These cases are child-only for a variety of reasons.

Exhibit 3.12 outlines the various paths that parental caregivers have taken on their route to becoming a child-only payee. As illustrated, the type and frequency of each path taken varies across the three counties. Approximately 22 percent of Alameda's and nearly 17 percent of Jackson's parental caseloads are comprised of non-qualified alien cases. In addition, a substantial portion of cases in each of the counties is currently made up of SSI cases (approximately 32 percent in Alameda, 73 percent in Duval, and 82 percent in Jackson). Over 35 percent of cases in Alameda are sanctioned cases while 18 percent in Duval are in sanction status.(5) The large deviation in the proportion of the caseload in sanction status across counties is a direct result of state policy (as noted in Chapter 2).

From the perspective of the focal child, however, not all children who are receiving aid on an SSI or sanctioned child-only case began receiving aid on such a case. Despite the fact that not all historical TANF receipt information could be collected through the case files due to archiving and destruction of older records, the case files did reveal that, from the point of view of the focal child, approximately 53 percent, 55 percent, and 22 percent of parental cases in Alameda, Duval, and Jackson, respectively, were once regular TANF cases. Specifically, 9 percent of cases in Alameda went from regular TANF to SSI while 36 percent went from regular TANF into sanction status. In Duval, 34 percent of parental cases began on regular TANF before becoming SSI cases while 17 were considered regular TANF before the imposition of a sanction. Slightly over 17 percent of Jackson's cases went from regular TANF to SSI.

Lastly, cases are occasionally in child-only status for specialized reasons. Around 3 percent of all parent cases across the counties (and 8 percent in Duval County) are considered child-only because the focal child's parent is a minor. Thus, while the parent is in the assistance unit, there is technically no adult on the case, making it a child-only case. About 8 percent of cases in Alameda are child-only for reasons that are unknown, as the files did not always provide complete information about the case's status.

Two cases reviewed in Alameda County are child-only due to the incarceration of the parent. While the child would usually be cared for by a non-parental caregiver while the parent was in prison, a special program in this county allows infants to be cared for by the parent while they remain incarcerated.

Exhibit 3.12
Sequence of Case Type on Parental Caregiver Cases, by County

Sequence of Case Type on Parental Caregiver Cases, by County

In some instances, parents (and possibly even non-parental caregivers) receive their TANF grants through a protective payee. This occurs more frequently in Duval as a result of Florida's sanction policy. Nevertheless, some parents in other counties do have a protective payee arrangement. Two cases in Alameda and Jackson (one in each county) receive their grants through a protective payee; in Duval, 14 percent of parental cases have a protective payee.

C. Non-Parental Caregiver Cases

Non-parental caregiver cases comprise a majority of the caseload in Jackson and Duval and approximately 28 percent of the child-only caseload in Alameda. The reasons why non-parental caregivers are not in the assistance unit differs substantially from those of parental caregivers. This is largely due to the fact that: 1) non-parental caregivers are less needy and, as a result, are less likely to ever have been on TANF and then been sanctioned; and 2) focal children of non-qualified alien parents are more likely to remain with the parent, as opposed to living with a non-parental caregiver at some point. Thus, non-parental caregivers are not on the grant because they are receiving SSI or have income over the standard of need.(6)

Exhibit 3.13 outlines the past two caregivers of focal children that are currently residing with a non-parental caregiver in each county. A notable portion of non-parental caregiver cases were once regular TANF cases headed by a parent. Over one-third of cases in Alameda, and over one-quarter of cases in Duval and Jackson were regular parent TANF cases that are now child-only with a non-parental caregiver. Between 7 and 9 percent of non-parental cases in each county were child-only with two different non-parental caregivers. One aspect worthy of exploration, and particular to non-parental caregiver cases, is why the child came to live with the current caregiver.

Exhibit 3.13
Path of Focal Children Currently Residing with a Non-parental Caregiver, by County

(percent of current non-parental cases)

Path of Focal Children Currently Residing with a Non-parental Caregiver, by County


1. How Child Came to Reside with Caregiver

The reasons why the child has come to reside with the caregiver vary widely and include desertion, substance abuse, incarceration, child abuse, and neglect, as outlined in the bottom panel of Exhibit 3.14. These reasons are not mutually exclusive and the child often came to reside with the caregiver for a combination of related reasons. Where multiple reasons were apparent, the most specific reason was documented in the file (for example, substance abuse would be noted in a case where a substance abusing parent deserted a child). In instances where the reason why the child came to reside with the caregiver differed for father and mother, the mother's situation was generally documented.

At times, the reason for the child being with the caregiver was well documented, whereas at other times, the reason had to be assumed or inferred based upon the context of the case. The overwhelming reasons that were documented in such instances of ambiguity were desertion and neglect. In addition, it is important to note that some reasons that were documented are subjective and dependent upon the caseworkers' assumptions and perceptions. Thus, the reasons why the child came to reside with caregiver are largely reflective of the quality of information in the case files, which varied from county to county. The percent of cases where the reason child came to reside with the current caregiver is unknown, ranges from 9 percent in Duval County to 25 percent in Jackson County; 13 percent of non-parental cases in Alameda are unknown.


Exhibit 3.14
Reasons for Non-Parental Caregiver Case being Child-Only
Non-Parental Caregiver Cases Alameda Duval Jackson
Reason caregiver may not be receiving assistance (%)a/
Has income or assets that may make them ineligible 35.4 43.0 66.0
Is receiving SSI 35.4 36.1 15.7
Sanctioned 2.5 1.3 0.0
Opted not to receive aid 0.0 1.9 1.3
Unknown 26.6 17.7 17.0
Reason child came to reside with caregiver (%)
Death of parent or caregiver 10.1 3.8 3.9
Parent disabled and unable to care for child 6.3 1.3 3.3
Parent incarcerated 8.9 9.4 12.4
Parent institutionalized 1.3 1.3 2.0
Evidence of child abuse 2.5 6.3 3.9
Parent has substance abuse problem 7.6 26.4 10.5
Environmental neglect (lack of adequate food, clothing, or shelter) 5.1 6.9 0.0
Desertion 40.5 25.8 34.6
Other court/CPS involvementb/ 1.3 9.4 3.3
Other 3.8 0.6 1.3
Unknown 12.7 8.8 24.8
Sample size 79 159 153
a/  The reasons documented are mutually exclusive.

b/  The case files reviewed in each county often provided little information concerning Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement. As discussed in Chapter 2, there appears to be little interaction between CPS and the welfare office. TANF case workers often would not know that CPS was involved in a case.


As delineated in Exhibit 3.14, a large portion of cases in each county are child-only with a non-parental caregiver due to the parent's desertion of the child (41 percent in Alameda; 26 percent in Duval; and 35 percent in Jackson). Substance abuse of the parent was also a common reason, but may have been one of other various factors leading to the child being placed with a non-parental caregiver. Over one-quarter of the non-parental cases in Duval County resulted from the substance abuse of the focal child's parent(s). The incarceration of a parent accounts for a number of non-parental child-only cases and ranges from 9 percent to 12 percent of cases. Death of the parent or previous care giver accounts for 10 percent of cases in Alameda, while 5 and 7 percent of cases in Alameda and Duval, respectively, resulted from the parent's neglect of the focal child.

In most instances, the child did not move from one non-parental caregiver to another while on TANF. Only 4 percent of all child-only cases across the three counties had more than one non-parental caregiver.

2. Relationship of Non-Parental Caregiver to Child

Two-thirds of non-parental caregivers are grandparents. (These figures are included in Exhibit 3.15.) In addition, it is not uncommon for great-grandparents (included in the "other adult relative" category) to be caregivers. Consequently, most caregivers are over the age of 50, as was discussed in Section III.C.


Exhibit 3.15
Relationship of Caregiver to Focal Child, by County
Non-Parental Caregiver Cases (%) Alameda Duval Jackson
Grandparent 63.3 66.9 60.6
Aunt / Uncle 26.6 18.8 20.0
Sibling 1.3 0.0 0.6
Other adult relative 8.9 13.8 13.5
Non-relative adult 0.0 0.6 5.2
Sample size 79 159 153

It is very rare that the non-parental caregiver of a focal child is a non-relative. Less than one percent of cases in Duval and 5 percent of non-parental cases in Jackson have non-relative caregivers. The remainder of the cases are headed by some other adult relative, generally an aunt or uncle and, in rare instances, an older sibling, cousin, or great aunt.