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Journal Issue: Children and Welfare Reform Volume 12 Number 1 Winter/Spring 2002

Experimental Studies of Welfare Reform and Children
Martha J. Zaslow Kristin A. Moore Jennifer L. Brooks Pamela A. Morris Kathryn Tout Zakia A. Redd Carol A. Emig

Summary

Even prior to passage of federal welfare reform, many demonstration programs anticipated key features of the 1996 law, such as "work-first" strategies, time limits on welfare receipt, and financial incentives to work. Over the past decade, 10 experimental evaluations of these programs have extended their studies to examine the impacts on children. This article provides a synthesis of findings from the first seven of these studies to release results concerning child impacts. Key observations include the following:

  • Across the different types of welfare-to-work programs examined, researchers found neither widespread harm nor widespread benefit to young children, but some significant impacts did occur.

  • Favorable impacts tended to occur in programs that improved family economic status or maternal education, but these programs still did not bring children to the level of national norms for positive child development.

  • Unfavorable impacts tended to occur when families did not show economic progress or when their economic situation worsened, when the children were adolescents, and—unexpectedly—when the families were believed to be at lower risk for long-term welfare receipt.

Thus, although impacts were not widespread, these programs did have the potential to affect children for both better and worse across a range of developmental outcomes. The authors conclude that these findings underscore the importance of strengthening program approaches to enhance developmental outcomes for children in families being served by the welfare system.