Social Security is usually associated with monthly payments to retirees. But there is another important facet to Social Security benefits—providing financial assistance to children. In 2017, for example, approximately 4.2 million children received $2.6 billion in aid each month, according to the Social Security Administration.

Key Takeaways

  • Children may be eligible for Social Security payments based on a parent's work record.
  • For a child to qualify, the parent must be retired, disabled, or deceased.
  • Children who are disabled may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a separate program that's also run by the Social Security Administration.

Types of Social Security Benefits for Children

Depending on their situation, children may be eligible for Social Security benefits, Social Security survivors benefits, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a program also administered by the Social Security Administration. Here's the lowdown on who qualifies.

Can Children Qualify for Social Security?

Biological or adopted children or stepchildren can be eligible for Social Security benefits if they meet the following criteria:

  • Have a parent who is disabled or retired and eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • Are unmarried.
  • Are younger than 18 years old or up to age 19 if they are full-time high school students.
  • Are 18 years or older and disabled (as long as the disability began before they turned age 22).

The requirements for Social Security survivors benefits are similar, except that the parent must be deceased for the child to qualify.

Supplemental Security Income is a separate program for Americans with limited incomes and other resources. Recipients must generally be 65 or older, blind, or disabled. But SSI is also available to children under age 18 in certain cases. To qualify:

  • The child must have a physical or mental impairment (or impairments) that results in marked and severe functional limitations.
  • The impairment or impairments must have lasted or be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.

In the case of blindness, that duration requirement doesn't apply. 

Social Security rules limit how much money a family may receive in total benefits.

How Much Do Children Receive in Social Security Benefits?

A child may receive a Social Security benefit equal to 50% of the parent’s full retirement benefit or disability benefit. If the parent is deceased, the child is eligible to receive up to 75% of the parent’s full retirement benefit. (SSI benefits are determined by a different calculation, and the maximum benefit changes each year.)

There is a limit to the total amount that a family can receive from Social Security based on one worker's earnings record, though. The maximum family benefit typically ranges from 150% to 180% of the parent's full benefit amount. That's the formula for maximum family benefits based on a retired parent's work record; if the parent is disabled, a different formula applies.

If the amount due the entire family surpasses the maximum, some individual payments will be proportionately reduced. As an example, consider a retiree named June, who has a dependent child, Ruth, who is also eligible for benefits. June's full retirement amount is $1,500, and her family maximum is $2,300. June would receive her full $1,500 per month, while her spouse, John, and daughter Ruth would split the remaining $800 payment, each receiving $400.

How to Receive Benefits

You must apply in person. The family must present the child's birth certificate, the parents' Social Security numbers, and the child's Social Security number. There may be additional documents required, as well. In relevant cases, the applicant must provide a parent's death certificate and/or evidence of disability from a doctor.

If your child is disabled, the Social Security Administration offers a Disability Starter Kit that can help you navigate the process of applying for benefits.

If you are taking care of a child and are receiving Social Security benefits for that reason, their benefits may stop at a different time from your own. For example, if your child is not disabled, your benefits will end when the child turns 16 years old. If the child is disabled and you have responsibility for them, your benefits may continue. For these types of specific circumstances, it’s best to contact the Social Security Administration for guidance.