The study also cast light on the utility of a variety of indicators of juvenile justice involvement, finding that false arrests are likely to be crime specific and disproportionately involve charges such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer. Second, they replicated their analysis using convictions instead of arrests, assuming that these show less variation across neighborhoods in false convictions than arrests because juvenile prosecutions are handled at the county level and arrests are made by local police.
Despite the benefits of using linked longitudinal administrative data, the work is complex and the level of effort and skill required is easily underestimated. Linking across data systems poses many challenges. Linking is accomplished by matching unique identifying information such as Social Security numbers across data systems of interest. Even when “unique” identifiers exist in the data sources to be linked, probabilistic-matching software should be employed to link records across data systems to reduce matching errors. Readers should consult Lee and Goerge (1999) for an in-depth review of the advantages of probabilistic matching even when Social Security numbers are available in both data sets.
In addition to the complex logistics of linking files, new issues are posed by TANF reforms themselves. In particular, a model that thoroughly investigates the relationship between parental welfare paths and child well-being requires not only data on the timing of welfare receipt, but also an indication of the reason that aid ceased. Without an explanation of the reason for termination, it is difficult to distinguish between parents who left aid for gainful employment and those who were dropped from the rolls due to a sanction and/or failure to comply with regulations. In many cases, this information is lacking. Therefore, researchers may try to link welfare and child well-being data to parental employment data in an attempt to understand which families are leaving welfare for “positive” reasons.
Finally, most current evaluation efforts typically focus on examining the relationship between parental welfare careers and outcomes for children. Under TANF, however, children’s and parents’ welfare careers must be considered separately. In some states, such as California, sanctions and time limits will result in a decrease in only the parental portion of the welfare grant, with the child’s portion maintained. Children might, then, move to another household assistance unit where the parent figure gets full benefits. Identifying and successfully tracking these parents and children may involve record linkage across cases and incorporate case flow dynamics that are quite complicated. Beyond receipt of TANF assistance, children’s participation in other important programs such as Medicaid, the Food Stamp Program, and WIC also must be evaluated if we are to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impacts that reforms have on child well-being.