Taking a Fresh Look at the Effects of Welfare Reform on Children and Teens

Washington, DC – With the reauthorization of welfare reform on lawmakers’ 2005 “to do” list, there may well be a renewal of interest in how this reform is affecting children and teens.


Child Trends’ latest research brief – How Welfare Reform Might Affect Children: Updating theConceptual Model – was designed to inform discussion and debate on this topic.


The brief sketches a short history of the study of welfare reform and children and shares early conceptual models of how this important social change might affect child well-being. The brief then presents a revised conceptual model that takes into account issues raised in the actual implementation of the reform following passage of 1996 welfare law.  One such issue is whether any income gains experienced by former welfare recipients have translated into greater resources for their children.  The revised model also takes into account new research areas that have a bearing on the reform (such as the role of fathers in families receiving and leaving welfare), as well as areas in which research gaps remain (such as how infants are faring when their mothers move from welfare to work and the quality of child care these mothers are able to obtain).


“When people hear a term like ‘conceptual model,’ they might dismiss it as just another bit of research jargon,” acknowledges Kristin A. Moore, President and Senior Scholar at Child Trends, who was the lead author of the brief.  “But conceptual models are essential tools for considering how one thing might affect another thing, in this case, how welfare reform might affect child well-being.  Andthat is a pressing social concern.”


“Studies consistently indicate that outcomes for children in low-income families and families that receive welfare assistance are substantially below outcomes for children in more advantaged families,” she adds.  “These continuing socioeconomic disparities underscore the need to improve our conceptual models, measures, and data resources and continue to examine the factors that account for such disparities.  What we learn through this examination can help to identify and sustain stronger public policies, programs, family processes, and community supports aimed at reducing, and, ultimately, at eliminating, these disparities.”  


Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.