Child development accounts

Evidence Rating  
Expert Opinion
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  

Child development accounts (CDAs), also called children’s development accounts or children’s savings accounts (CSAs), are accounts designated for a specific child to build assets over time through contributions from governments, society, family, friends, or the child. Accounts are generally started with an initial contribution, or seed money, from a sponsoring organization such as a government agency, nonprofit, or philanthropic foundation. Sponsoring organizations may also provide ongoing savings incentives (e.g., matching contributions) for participants from low income families, along with age-appropriate financial education for the family and child. CDAs are often available through school-based initiatives, citywide public-private partnerships, or statewide efforts. Current statewide initiatives invest in state 529 college savings plans1.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased asset accumulation

  • Increased college enrollment

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased financial resources for higher education

  • Improved social emotional skills

  • Improved parental mental health

  • Improved financial literacy

Evidence of Effectiveness

Child development accounts (CDAs) are a suggested strategy to expand financial and educational opportunity for children from low income families or disadvantaged backgrounds1. Evaluations of SEED for Oklahoma Kids (SEED OK), a CDA intervention that included $1000 seed money and savings matches for lower income families, indicates that universal CDAs can nearly eliminate disparities in 529 account and asset holding among groups of different socio-economic status2, 3 and between racial and ethnic groups. However, more advantaged children continue to have more assets2 and parents with the greatest financial knowledge save more than parents with lower financial literacy4. Interviews with participants in the Promise Indiana CDA suggest that initial seed money, deposit incentives, and withdrawal restrictions may influence savings5.

Participation in a CDA intervention such as SEED OK can improve social emotional development in early childhood6, particularly for children whose mothers are unmarried7. Participation in such programs has also been associated with increased math and reading scores among low income children8. Participation may also positively affect mothers’ mental health9 and increase parents’ financial literacy10. Both exposure to and participation in a CDA may increase parents’ educational expectations for their children11, 12.

A study of child development accounts implemented as part of an economic empowerment intervention for AIDS orphans in Africa suggests CDAs may promote savings, increase educational expectations, and increase mental and physical health13, 14.

Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects of CDA interventions.

Overall, family assets and children’s savings appear to increase college attendance and completion10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Children and young adults with savings accounts, particularly accounts designated for schooling, are more likely to enroll and graduate from college than those without such accounts. Even school savings accounts holding less than $500 may increase college enrollment and graduation among low and moderate income children17, particularly black children18.

Longer term, holding savings accounts in adolescence appears to be associated with an increased likelihood of savings account ownership, greater total savings21, 22, 23, and greater asset accumulation for young adults, particularly those with low incomes21, 22.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of 2018, there are child development account (CDA) programs in 30 states. Municipally-sponsored initiatives include San Francisco and Oakland’s Kindergarten to College (K2C) savings account programs, which deposit an initial $50-$100 in seed money into an account for every kindergartener in the city. Maine’s Harold Alfond College Challenge opens a NextGen 529 with a $500 deposit for every baby born in the state. The Kansas Child Support Savings Initiative, a joint effort between the Kansas Department for Children and Families, Child Support Services Office, and the Kansas State Treasurer, allows noncustodial parents to open a 529 for their children and receive a reduction in child support arrears based on those deposits1.

Implementation Resources

PN-CSAs - Prosperity Now (PN). Children's saving accounts (CSAs).

AEI-KU 2013 - Assets & Education Initiative (AEI). Building expectation, delivering results: Asset-based financial aid and the future of higher education. Lawrence: The Assets and Education Initiative, University of Kansas School of Social Welfare; 2013.

CSD-Sherraden 2018 - Sherraden M, Clancy MM, Beverly SG. Taking Child Development Accounts to scale: Ten key policy design elements. St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development (CSD); 2018: Policy Brief 18-08.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 PN-CSAs - Prosperity Now (PN). Children's saving accounts (CSAs).

2 Sherraden 2016* - Sherraden M, Clancy M, Nam Y, et al. Universal and progressive Child Development Accounts: A policy innovation to reduce educational disparity. Urban Education. 2016:1-28.

3 Huang 2017a* - Huang J, Kim Y, Sherraden M, Clancy M. Heterogeneous effects of Child Development Accounts on savings for children’s education. Journal of Policy Practice. 2017;16(1):59-80.

4 Huang 2015b* - Huang J, Nam Y, Sherraden M, Clancy M. Financial capability and asset accumulation for children’s education: Evidence from an experiment of Child Development Accounts. The Journal of Consumer Affairs. 2015;49(1):127-155.

5 Lewis 2017* - Lewis M, O’Brien M, Elliott W. Immigrant Latino families saving against great odds: The case of CSAs and the Prosperity Kids program. Race and Social Problems. 2017;9(3):192-206.

6 Huang 2014* - Huang J, Sherraden M, Kim Y, Clancy M. Effects of Child Development Accounts on early social-emotional development: An experimental test. JAMA Pediatrics. 2014;168(3):265-271.

7 Huang 2017* - Huang J, Kim Y, Sherraden M, Clancy M. Unmarried mothers and children’s social-emotional development: The role of Child Development Accounts. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2017;26(1):234-247.

8 Elliott 2018* - Elliott W, Kite B, O’Brien M, Lewis M, Palmer A. Initial elementary education findings from Promise Indiana’s Children’s savings account program. Children and Youth Services Review. 2018;85:295-306.

9 Huang 2014a* - Huang J, Sherraden M, Purnell JQ. Impacts of Child Development Accounts on maternal depressive symptoms: Evidence from a randomized statewide policy experiment. Social Science and Medicine. 2014;112:30-38.

10 Huang 2010* - Huang J, Guo B, Kim Y, Sherraden M. (2010). Parental income, assets, borrowing constraints and children's post-secondary education. Children and Youth Services Review. 2010;32(4):585-594.

11 Rauscher 2017* - Rauscher E, Elliott W, O’Brien M, Callahan J, Steensma J. Examining the relationship between parental educational expectations and a community-based children’s savings account program. Children and Youth Services Review. 2017;74:96-107.

12 Kim 2016* - Kim K, Choi JS, Choi E, et al. Effects of community-based health worker interventions to improve chronic disease management and care among vulnerable populations: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health. 2016;106(4):e3-e28.

13 Curley 2010 - Curley J, Ssewamala F, Han CK. Assets and educational outcomes: Child Development Accounts (CDAs) for orphaned children in Uganda. Children and Youth Services Review. 2010;32(11):1585-1590.

14 Ssewamala 2009 - Ssewamala FM, Han CK, Neilands TB. Asset ownership and health and mental health functioning among AIDS-orphaned adolescents: Findings from a randomized clinical trial in rural Uganda. Social Science & Medicine. 2009;69(2):191-198.

15 Elliott 2013a* - Elliott W, Constance-Huggins M, Song HA. Improving college progress among low- to moderate-income (LMI) young adults: The role of assets. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. 2013;34(4):382-399.

16 Elliott 2013b* - Elliott W, Song H, Nam I. Small-dollar accounts, children's college outcomes, and wilt. Children and Youth Services Review. 2013;35(3):535-547.

17 Elliott 2013c* - Elliott W, Song H, Nam I. Small-dollar children's saving accounts and children's college outcomes by income level. Children and Youth Services Review. 2013;35(3):548-559.

18 Friedline 2013a* - Friedline T, Elliott W, Nam I. Small-dollar children's saving accounts and children's college outcomes by race. Children and Youth Services Review. 2013;35(3):548-559.

19 Elliott 2011* - Elliott W, Destin M, Friedline T. Taking stock of ten years of research on the relationship between assets and children's educational outcomes: Implications for theory, policy and intervention. Children and Youth Services Review. 2011;33(11):2312-2328.

20 Zhan 2011* - Zhan M, Sherraden M. Assets and liabilities, educational expectations, and children's college degree attainment. Children and Youth Services Review. 2011;33(6):846-854.

21 Friedline 2013* - Friedline T, Elliott W. Connections with banking institutions and diverse asset portfolios in young adulthood: Children as potential future investors. Children and Youth Services Review. 2013;35(6):994-1006.

22 Friedline 2013b* - Friedline T, Song HA. Accumulating assets, debts in young adulthood: Children as potential future investors. Children and Youth Services Review. 2013;35(9):1486-1502.

23 Friedline 2012* - Friedline T, Elliott W, Chowa GAN. Testing an asset-building approach for young people: Early access to savings predicts later savings. Economics of Education Review. 2012;33:31-51.

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