Income and Child Maltreatment: Evidence from a Discontinuity in Tax Benefits

51 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2023

See all articles by Katherine Rittenhouse

Katherine Rittenhouse

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Date Written: February 5, 2023


Poverty is one of the leading predictors of child maltreatment, yet the causal relationship is not well-understood. In this paper I provide new evidence of the effects of income on child protection system (CPS) referrals, investigations and foster care placements. I exploit a discontinuity in child-related tax benefits around a January 1 birthdate, which results in otherwise-similar families receiving considerably different refunds during the first year of a child's life. I use 20 years of linked administrative data from California to determine the effects of this additional income on CPS involvement. A one-time $1,000 transfer to low-income households decreases the number of referrals to CPS in the first 3 years of a child's life by approximately 3%. These effects persist throughout the system, decreasing investigations (3%) and days spent in foster care (8%). Effects also persist throughout childhood, reducing CPS involvement through at least age 8. Heterogeneity analyses by allegation and reporter category as well as by child race and gender suggest that these effects capture true reductions in maltreatment, as opposed to changes in reporting behavior. These findings suggest that providing low-income families with additional resources during the first year of a child's life are a fruitful strategy for reducing child maltreatment.

JEL Classification: H51, I14, I18, I30, J13, J18

Suggested Citation

Rittenhouse, Katherine, Income and Child Maltreatment: Evidence from a Discontinuity in Tax Benefits (February 5, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Katherine Rittenhouse (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

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