Methods: This study examines the experiences of families who left TANF and factors that influence a subsequent finding of child maltreatment. Families in the study are female-headed households from Cuyahoga County, Ohio who exited TANF between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2002 and had a child who was 10 years of age or younger at the time of exit (n = 18023). The study utilizes administrative data from county human services, county family services, birth records, employment data, and census data. Factors examined were individual and family characteristics, birth data for the youngest child at time of exit, past employment and cash assistance usage, reason for exit from cash assistance, employment after exit from TANF, public assistance usage after exit, and neighborhood characteristics. A Cox proportional hazard model was used to examine the occurrence and timing of substantiated or indicated child maltreatment events during a two year period following the families' initial exit from TANF.
Results: In the study, 894 (5.0%) families experienced a substantiated or indicated child maltreatment finding. A test of the full model was statistically significant X2 (25, N = 18023) = 230.57, p < .001. In the multivariate model, factors associated with maltreatment included age of mother, age of the child, education level of the mother, the size of family, exit status from TANF, employment earnings following exit, Medicaid receipt, Food Stamp receipt, and past work experience. Two key findings are that involuntary exits from TANF due to time-limits and sanctions increases the risk of maltreatment (ratio = 1.200), while every $100 in additional earned income from employment following exit decreases the risk of maltreatment by 2.1% (ratio = .979).
Conclusions and Implications: This study adds to our knowledge about the factors that contribute to and protect against child maltreatment among families exiting TANF. Families who experience involuntary exits are of special concern for social work practitioners and policy makers. Involuntary exits have recently increased due to more stringent work participation rates. In addition, the current TANF caseloads consist of greater numbers of families with multiple barriers. Eligibility caseworkers need to improve their ability to assess families at risk of involuntary exit so that barriers can be addressed prior to exit. The finding related to employment earnings supports policies that emphasize training and education over quick placement. From a practitioner perspective, identifying more stable and better payment employment opportunities will result in well-being for the mother and children.