Reducing a child’s exposure to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect gives a child the best opportunity to grow into a happy and healthy adult. There are several factors that may increase the chances of a child experiencing one or more of these, such as living in poverty, and having a parent/caregiver with mental health challenges and limited access to care. Researchers are beginning to look at programs and policies that address these factors. And now a new study is asking the question: is covering more adults through Medicaid tied to a decline in child neglect?
The study, completed by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, compared physical abuse and neglect rates of children younger than six in the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid to the 19 states that have not expanded the program. Researchers found the rate of child neglect in Medicaid-expansion states decreased by more than three times the rate of the remaining non-expansion states. Medicaid expansion provides parents/caregivers with access to a variety of healthcare options, including access to mental health care and treatment. Additionally, expansion of the program allows states to receive federal funds that could cover additional services that can affect a parents’ ability to provide for their child. Future studies are expected to look at whether expanding Medicaid (and improved access to funded services) is actually the catalyst for reduced rates of child neglect and whether pursuing this option could be a way to reduce the rate of child neglect in states that have not yet opted to expand the program.