Social Security Benefits for Children: How They Work

A child may be eligible for benefits based on a parent's work record

Social Security is usually associated with monthly payments to retirees. However, there is another important facet of Social Security benefits—providing financial assistance to children. Children may qualify for benefits if a parent is 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 (SSA). Here's the lowdown on who qualifies for what.

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, a separate program that's also run by the Social Security Administration.
  • Children can receive survivor benefits until the age of 18 or 19 if still in primary or secondary school.
  • The maximum family Social Security benefit ranges from 150% to 180% of the original payee's benefit.

How Children Qualify for Social Security Benefits

Eligible children can collect Social Security benefits based on a parent's work record. The parent must have earned enough Social Security credits. 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 or are between ages 18 and 19 and are full-time high school students
  • Are 18 or older and disabled (as long as the disability began before they turned age 22)

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

Grandchildren or step-grandchildren can sometimes collect survivor benefits under certain circumstances.

SSI Benefits for Children

Supplemental Security Income is a separate program for Americans with limited incomes and few 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 for SSI benefits:

  • 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.
  • A child who isn't blind must not earn more than $1,350 per month. A child who is blind must not earn more than $2,260 per month.

Decisions for granting SSI can take time. However, if a child has qualifying conditions, the Social Security Administration may begin making payments while an application is under review.

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.

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. The formula for maximum family benefits is based on a retired parent's work record. If the parent is disabled, a different formula applies.

$2.92 billion

The total average amount of monthly Social Security benefits paid to children as of 2022. Approximately 4.97 million children received benefits each month.

If the amount due to 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 per month, and her family maximum is $2,300 per month. June would receive her full $1,500, while her spouse, John, and daughter Ruth would split the remaining $800 payment, each receiving $400.

SSI benefits are determined by a different calculation, and the maximum benefit changes each year. Some states also supplement SSI. In addition, a disabled child who collects SSI may also be eligible for Medicaid to help pay for medical bills.

How to Receive Benefits

You can apply for benefits by calling 800-772-1213 or by visiting your local Social Security office. Applications for children's benefits are not accepted online. However, you may apply online for SSI for children.

The family must present the child's birth certificate, the parents' Social Security numbers (SSNs), and the child's Social Security number. Additional documents may also be required. In relevant cases, the applicant must provide a parent's death certificate and/or evidence of disability from a doctor.

If you are taking care of a child and are receiving Social Security benefits for that reason, the child's 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 are responsible for them, your benefits may continue. For these types of specific circumstances, it’s best to contact the Social Security Administration for guidance.

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.

How Soon Can Survivor Benefits for Children Be Started?

To initiate survivor benefits for children, an application and supporting documentation must be supplied to the Social Security Administration. How quickly benefits begin depends on how long it takes the agency to determine eligibility and for the applicant to submit the required documentation. However, benefits cannot be paid for the month in which the recipient died.

How Do You Use Social Security Benefits for Children of Disabled Parents?

Social security benefits for children can be used to care for their basic needs and to cover their share of living expenses. For example, it can be used for food, school supplies, rent or mortgage, and utilities.

When Do Survivor Benefits End for the Parent With Children?

Survivor benefits for the surviving child's parent end when the child turns 16. However, if the child is disabled and remains in their care, the benefits may continue indefinitely.

Article Sources
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  2. Social Security Administration. "Survivors Benefits," Page 2.

  3. “Social Security Child's Insurance Benefits.”

  4. Social Security Administration. "Understanding Supplemental Security Income SSI for Children—2022 Edition."

  5. Social Security Administration. "Understanding Supplemental Security Income If You Are Disabled or Blind—2022 Edition."

  6. Social Security Administration. "Compassionate Allowances."

  7. Social Security Administration. "Benefits for Children," Page 2.

  8. Social Security Administration. "Maximum Benefit for a Disabled-Worker Family."

  9. Social Security Administration. "Monthly Statistical Snapshot, February 2022."

  10. Social Security Administration. "Apply for Social Security Benefits."

  11. Social Security Administration. "Supplemental Security Income (SSI) For Children."

  12. Social Security Administration. "Form SSA-4 | Information You Need To Apply for Child's Benefits."

  13. Social Security Administration. "What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivor Benefits," Page 13.

  14. Social Security Administration. "Parents and Guardians."

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