Working Papers

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

Revise and Resubmit, AEJ: Policy

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 three 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 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 may be a fruitful strategy for reducing child maltreatment.

Algorithms, Humans, and Racial Disparities in Child Protective Services: Evidence from the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (with Emily Putnam-Hornstein and Rhema Vaithianathan)

 Equity concerns are a primary constraint in the adoption of algorithms. We ask how providing decision-makers with a predictive risk model affects racial disparities, relative to the relevant counterfactual of human decision-making. Our context is the implementation of the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST), a tool that aims to help child protection workers decide which allegations of maltreatment to screen in for investigation. Using difference-in-differences and triple difference designs, we find that the AFST reduced disparities in screening decisions and home removal rates for investigated referrals involving Black vs. white children. An analysis of false positive and false negative rates suggests that this reduction in disparities was achieved while improving welfare among both Black and white children.

The Effect of Smoking on Mental Health: Evidence from a Randomized Trial (with Katherine Meckel)

This paper estimates the causal effects of a smoking cessation intervention on mental health using data from the Lung Health Study, a randomized trial with five years of follow-up interviews. In the short-run, cessation worsens mental health, likely reflecting the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Long-run effects on mental health are small overall, but mask heterogeneity by gender. For women, cessation leads to improved mental health, driven by decreases in insomnia and nervousness. Men do not experience these improvements, due in part to a small increase in severe disturbances. 

Work in Progress

Child Maltreatment Investigations and Family Well-being  (with Lindsey Lacey and David Simon)


Anticipation and Environmental Regulation (with Matt Zaragoza-Watkins), 89 Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 255-77 (2018)