Welfare Reform and Child Well-being
In this paper we sort through conflicting theory and evidence regarding the impacts of welfare reform on children’s well-being and development. Our conclusions regarding likely child impacts depend crucially on the ages of the children studied. In the case of elementary-school children, the picture is fairly positive. We find strong evidence that welfare reform can be a potent force for enhancing achievement and positive behavior. When welfare reform packages do not appear to help younger children, there is little evidence of harm, even in the one experiment with time limits. If anything, the beneficial impacts are strongest for children in families with longer histories of welfare receipt. On the other hand, in the case of adolescents, more limited evidence suggests that welfare reforms may cause detrimental increases in school problems and risky behavior. The jury is still out on impacts on infants and toddlers. Our list of policy recommendations includes ways of better supporting work, providing after-school and community programs for older children, addressing safety-net issues for families with barriers to stable, full-time employment, and encouraging fathers to become more involved with their children. More generally, we hope that the debate over the future of welfare reform will pay more attention to children’s well-being, to the diverse situations in which children in low-income families find themselves, and to the very different developmental needs of children of different ages.
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Journal of Policy Analysis and Management,
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(1), pages 85-113.
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