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A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explores some of the positive influences of tax credits on child welfare as policymakers debate whether to extend them.
The study, released this month, found significant drops in reported cases of child abuse in the weeks after families obtained federal child and earned income tax credits. During the pandemic, tax credits have helped lift millions of families out of poverty.
These findings are relevant as Congress debates whether to expand child tax credits that were put in place in 2021 as a form of relief from the coronavirus pandemic. For the last six months of that year, Advance Credit provided $250 to $300 each month directly to families.
The AAP study used extensive child maltreatment data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Archive (data encompasses physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as neglect). About 1 in 4 children are victims of abuse or neglect at some point in their lives, and poverty has long been associated with increased likelihood of child abuse.
University of Washington researchers looked at the rate of suspected child abuse cases in 48 states and DC over three years, including two years before and one year after the 2017 effective date of the PATH Act. (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes). The law expanded some tax credits, but, in exchange, also gave the IRS more time to process returns, to eliminate fraud. This delay was one of the objectives of the AAP study, which examined the number of alleged cases of child abuse over several years in the weeks following receipt of child tax credits and tax credits. on earned income.
Prior to the PATH Act taking effect, researchers noted that the number of child abuse cases declined during the first six weeks of tax season, when payments were issued. After the PATH Act, with the payment of tax credits on earned income through the end of February – week seven of tax season – researchers observed a similar decline in child abuse, but now matching the timeline delayed.
Before and after the PATH Act was enacted, the rate of reported cases declined the most three weeks after families received the tax credits, with approximately 7 fewer child abuse cases per 100,000 children. The more child and income tax credits families received, the fewer cases of abuse were reported.
The study also found that for every $1,000 families receive in tax credits per child, the rate of child abuse cases decreased by about 5%. On average, 67 cases of child abuse were reported per 100,000 children each week across the country over the three years of the study.
Even though tax credits weren’t designed to reduce child abuse, the study is a good example of how public policy can affect a variety of issues, said Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, professor of of Epidemiology and Pediatrics at the University of Washington and one of the study’s authors.
“We really should focus more on social policies and programs that can impact violence prevention,” Rowhani-Rahbar said. “A lot of these social programs actually have a spillover effect that really impacts these risk and protective factors for different forms of violence. Here we were talking about child abuse, but that also applies to many many other forms of violence, so you hope paediatricians, policymakers, and community leaders take these findings seriously.
This story on child tax credits was produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger Bulletin.