Method: Using administrative data in Missouri from a large longitudinal study (Jonson-Reid et. al, 2005), this paper followed children who were born between 1982 through 1994 and received AFDC/TANF at least once from 1990 through 2006 (N=4757). Data included complete history of welfare participation in the observation period. A proportional hazard model for recurrent events was used to examine the relationship between welfare exits and re-entries (dependent variables) and child's educational disability (independent variable). Educational disability was measured two ways: a dichotomous indicator of eligibility for special education (19% of sample respondents had educational disabilities); and according to type of disability (learning disabled, emotional disturbance and other health impaired, other disability, and no known disability). Analyses controlled for characteristics of children, parents, siblings, and census tracts.
Results: Younger children (age<=6) with disabilities were less likely to exit welfare prior to welfare reform (HR=.82, p=.000) but not after (HR=1.13, p=.471). Regarding welfare re-entries, disabled children between age 0-6 were significantly more likely to return cash assistance before (HR=1.58, p=.000) but not after welfare reform (HR=1.21, p=.258). Again, for older children (age>6), the association between disability and welfare patterns was dependent on the type of disability and relationship to welfare reform. After welfare reform, older children (age>6) with learning disabilities had lower probability of welfare exits. Among those who did exit, those with other disabilities had a higher rate of welfare re-entries.
Implications: Findings regarding child disability and difficulty attaining self-sufficiency after welfare reform were consistent with Brandon et al (2008), but only for families with older children (>6 years) with disabilities other than those due to emotional issues. In providing support to low income families with children with educational disabilities, special attention should be paid to challenges that occur with school-age children. It may be the additional time demands of supporting them in school or lack of after school care options that can meet the child's special needs makes it difficult for single parents to maintain employment. There is little childcare help when children with educational disabilities turn 13. Additional research is needed to see if findings are consistent in other regions.