Welfare reform is taking place across the United States. Driven by rising costs and caseloads, changes in the make-up of families receiving benefits, and revised expectations regarding work effort among the poor, income support policies for families in poverty are undergoing sweeping changes. The centerpiece of these policies—the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program—was established in 1935 to ensure that major losses in family income, then due primarily to death or disablement of the father, did not leave children destitute. The basic strategy of guaranteeing benefits to eligible poor American families has changed from one that was originally designed to enable single mothers to stay home with their children to one that requires those mothers to work.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (Title I: Block Grants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), the major change at the federal level, replaces the entitlement status of AFDC with an annual lump-sum payment to the states and a maximum five-year time limit on benefits. At the same time, the majority of states are also redesigning the basic provisions of their AFDC programs that govern who receives benefits, under what conditions, and for how long.

The immediate goal of most state reforms is to move families from welfare to jobs, and hence, to reduce AFDC costs. However, the long-term effectiveness of these efforts depends, in part, on ending intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency. To achieve this goal requires advancing understanding of the effects of welfare and welfare reforms on children's development.

In April 1996 the Board on Children, Youth, and Families (of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine) and the Family and Child Well-Being Research Network (of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) convened their second annual research briefing on welfare and children's development. The briefing had three objectives:

  • to create a venue for a productive exchange between researchers and policy makers who are working on issues of child development and welfare;

  • to maximize the usefulness of research in helping decision makers "learn as we go" during the current phase of experimentation in welfare reform; and

  • to encourage more assessments of children's development and family processes in efforts to track and evaluate welfare reform at all levels of government.

Most of the research presented at the workshop addressed the question of how children and youth are affected by growing up in families that receive welfare benefits, primarily AFDC.1

1  

 The definitions of welfare varied in the research presented—from receipt to a host of means-tested assistance programs (e.g., food stamps); generally, it did not include medical assistance.



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New Findings on Welfare and Children's Development: Summary of a Research Briefing Welfare reform is taking place across the United States. Driven by rising costs and caseloads, changes in the make-up of families receiving benefits, and revised expectations regarding work effort among the poor, income support policies for families in poverty are undergoing sweeping changes. The centerpiece of these policies—the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program—was established in 1935 to ensure that major losses in family income, then due primarily to death or disablement of the father, did not leave children destitute. The basic strategy of guaranteeing benefits to eligible poor American families has changed from one that was originally designed to enable single mothers to stay home with their children to one that requires those mothers to work. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (Title I: Block Grants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), the major change at the federal level, replaces the entitlement status of AFDC with an annual lump-sum payment to the states and a maximum five-year time limit on benefits. At the same time, the majority of states are also redesigning the basic provisions of their AFDC programs that govern who receives benefits, under what conditions, and for how long. The immediate goal of most state reforms is to move families from welfare to jobs, and hence, to reduce AFDC costs. However, the long-term effectiveness of these efforts depends, in part, on ending intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency. To achieve this goal requires advancing understanding of the effects of welfare and welfare reforms on children's development. In April 1996 the Board on Children, Youth, and Families (of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine) and the Family and Child Well-Being Research Network (of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) convened their second annual research briefing on welfare and children's development. The briefing had three objectives: to create a venue for a productive exchange between researchers and policy makers who are working on issues of child development and welfare; to maximize the usefulness of research in helping decision makers "learn as we go" during the current phase of experimentation in welfare reform; and to encourage more assessments of children's development and family processes in efforts to track and evaluate welfare reform at all levels of government. Most of the research presented at the workshop addressed the question of how children and youth are affected by growing up in families that receive welfare benefits, primarily AFDC.1 1    The definitions of welfare varied in the research presented—from receipt to a host of means-tested assistance programs (e.g., food stamps); generally, it did not include medical assistance.