While U.S. welfare programs have traditionally targeted single-parent households, the “child-only” caseload is large and growing. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County’s Office of Metropolitan Social Services contracted with the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research to conduct a study of this important but often-overlooked segment of the welfare caseload. MSS desires to learn more about child-only cases with non-parent caretakers in Davidson County, such that a menu of enhanced services can be developed for the broader population of kinship caregivers. Non-parental child-only cases involve situations in which children reside with family members other than their own parents or non-related legal guardians, most often grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, or uncles. These cases, which comprise about 60 percent of Tennessee’s child-only caseload, are likely to have different needs than typical Families First assistance groups.
Our study presents the first detailed statistical portrait of the current non-parent child-only caseload in Davidson County. We supplement administrative data from monthly Families First records with a detailed survey of non-parent caretakers of child-only cases in Davidson County. Of the 10,277 child-only cases with non-parent caretakers in the state of Tennessee, 1,285 resided in Davidson County and 617 were surveyed for this report.
We find that non-parent caretakers of child-only cases in Davidson County are quite different from statewide averages in several important ways. They are less likely to be married and less likely to be grandparents of the eligible children. They are younger, more likely to be Black, and less likely to be disabled or to receive SSI than state averages. They received slightly more in Food Stamps and other unearned income. They are less likely to own a vehicle and more likely to rent than own their current housing. They also face higher monthly payments for mortgages, property taxes, and utility bills. Results indicate that non-parent caretakers of child-only cases are generally better off than caretakers of non-child-only cases. That said, a significant percentage of our Davidson County survey sample report having one or more difficulties. The areas for the most immediate and cost-effective impact appear to be information and referral, case management, education, and training.