Abstract: A Study of the Coping Strategies of Families Moving from Welfare to Work (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11869 A Study of the Coping Strategies of Families Moving from Welfare to Work

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 8:45 AM
Pacific Concourse G (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Susan Roll, MSW , University of Denver, Doctoral Candidate, Denver, CO
Daniel Brisson, PhD , University of Denver, Assistant Professor, Denver, CO
Jean East, PhD , University of Denver, Associate Professor, Denver, CO
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996), created multiple changes in welfare policy. The primary change was a requirement of work and job-related activities in exchange for government assistance. One of the ways in which welfare policy is meant to support families to become self sufficient is through “work supports”. Problematic however, is that work supports are incrementally lost as a family's income increases but often before sufficient income can be sustained to replace that support. For example, a $25.00/week raise may cause a family to lose child care benefits, but the increase in income is not nearly enough to cover the newly accrued child care expense. Faced with the potential loss of work supports, low-income families moving towards self-sufficiency make decisions about their finances that have repercussions on their lives and those of their children. How a family makes these decisions is based on a number of individual, family and community factors. The current study was undertaken to further understand specifically how race and ethnicity, geography and the perception of social supports affects families' strategies around work supports.


A mixed methods research design was used beginning with a survey of 299 Colorado families in four counties who have been on the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) during the past two years. This was followed by in-depth interviews with 30 families to provide deeper insight into work support decision-making, and specifically the decision to maintain child-care benefits.

In the sample, 30% of families, when faced with the loss of child care benefits, reported finding ways to stay on CCCAP at the cost of a move towards self-sufficiency. We tested if this choice to maintain benefits is predicted by the strength of social supports, race, ethnicity and/or geographic location. Perceptions of social supports were measured using validated scales of instrumental, financial, emotional and informational support. Logistic regression was conducted to assess direct effects and the proportion of variance in decision-making around child care explained by the model


Results show that parents who report lower levels of perceived social supports around child care are more likely to find ways to stay on CCCAP at the cost of a move towards self-sufficiency. In addition, instrumental social supports predicted a family's choice to forgo child care benefits for the opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency. No significant differences were found for race and ethnicity nor were they found for urban versus rural families. Qualitative interviews revealed that both perceptions of strong social supports and job flexibility aided families in moving towards self sufficiency.


These findings have implications for both policy and social work practice. Policy makers will do well to re-examine the cut off for work support benefits and consider a more gradual transition in order that families can realistically make the jump from welfare to work. For practitioners, the perceived availability of social networks that can provide instrumental support such as a ride or assistance with errands is clearly an important factor for a family's survival.