How Medicaid Expansion Could Decrease Child Maltreatment

July 14, 2020 // Tamia Esmon and Shery Girgis

In the United States, child maltreatment is a substantial and pervasive issue that has long-lasting effects. Roughly 2.9 million cases are reported yearly in the United States. Reports show individuals that experience child maltreatment have an increased risk for several diseases as an adult, such as heart disease and cancer. Long term consequences could also include depression and PTSD. In addition, there are societal impacts of child maltreatment. It is estimated that child maltreatment costs the United States $428 million annually, including both direct and indirect costs. Given this large number, child maltreatment is a significant burden on children, families, and society as a whole

As a result of the emergent issue of child maltreatment, resources have been allocated to develop and establish policies to attempt to reduce the rates. A few examples of these studies include California’s 2004 paid family leave policy and assessing child care access and continuity of child health care policies. Despite these efforts, few programs have been effective at consistently reducing the rates of child maltreatment.

On the contrary, states that expanded Medicaid have been effective in reducing child maltreatment. Reports from a study conducted in 2019 indicated there was a decline in the rates of screen-in reports made to Child Protective Services for concerns of neglect in children younger than 6 years in states that expanded Medicaid. This data highlights the positive correlation between social policy and child maltreatment outcomes, including rising Medicaid coverage, an increase in the percentage of FPL eligibility cutoff, as well as the proportion of parents covered by Medicaid.

A positive effect was depicted following an increase in medical coverage of states that expanded Medicaid. Important risk factors for maltreatment are financial stability and access to mental health care, both of which are improved by expanding Medicaid. Efforts to prevent child neglect must be increased in Tennessee, a state where reported child abuse cases have been on a slightly upward trend in recent years. According to Kids Count, in 2019 75,759 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported in Tennessee.  Child abuse and neglect have seen a spike due to Covid-19, as well, with no specific solution put into place to tackle this issue.

Medicaid expansion is long overdue in Tennessee. Policies that concentrate on reducing risk factors of neglect, such as increasing health coverage, could prevent maltreatment of children. Child abuse and neglect rates must decrease in order to assure children grow up in safe, stable, and nurturing environments and relationships and get what they need to become healthy adults. Expanding Medicaid could be an effective way to reduce the growing rates.

Every child deserves to grow up in a loving home, and every parent should be able to provide their child with all of the basic necessities to thrive. Decreasing rates of child maltreatment in Tennessee would be one of the many positive outcomes of Medicaid expansion.