Despite the wide variety of outcome indicators that can be configured from child welfare administrative data, like all services data, child welfare data cover only those who receive services. Because child welfare data are available only for those abused and neglected children who come to the attention of public systems of care, changes to the undetected abuse rate that may result from welfare program changes cannot be assessed. Despite the hurdles associated with linking welfare and child welfare data, given the established association between poverty and maltreatment, child welfare advocates and policy makers must examine the impact of welfare reform on child welfare services. In particular, whether these changes increase the likelihood of maltreatment has important consequences for both the TANF families and children as well as the general social good. In addition to the immediate risk of physical harm and even death maltreated children face, longer term consequences include deficits in emotional and physical health, cognitive development, and socialization difficulties (Ammerman et al., 1986; Couch and Milner, 1993). Furthermore, observed relationships between childhood maltreatment and later criminal activity or abusive behavior also increase future consequences for both children and society (Gray, 1988; Jonson-Reid and Earth, 2000).
Educational success is a key indicator of a child’s well-being and clearly is related to current and future economic and physical well-being (Barnett, 1998; Card and Krueger, 1998). Educational success can be affected by educational histories, parental work, and targeted efforts to address parents’ educational needs. Indeed, some welfare programs (i.e., Job Opportunities and Basic Skills [JOBS]) have more provisions directed at parental education than others (i.e., TANF). Because of the strong relationship between education of parents and children, when welfare programs help recipients to improve their educational skills (Boudett and Friedlander, 1997), they can be expected to have an influence on the learning of their children.
Certainly, improved educational performance of children is one hope of TANF. Because TANF does not pay for substantial educational programs for parents, the benefits for the education of children would have to be by more indirect means. This process may take several forms. For example, if parents’ employment efforts result in relocation to communities that have schools with higher achievement for low-income children, this could result in educational achievement. Or, by witnessing their parents’ success at the worksite, children could be inspired to have higher standards for their own achievement.
A limited set of pre-TANF research studies indicates there may not be a simple, sizable effect of welfare participation on children’s educational attainment. Hill and O’Neill (1994) found that parental AFDC participation has no effect on children’s scores on a standardized test of vocabulary, given income.