Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16257 The Economic “Safety Net” and Child Protection System Involvement

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:45 AM
Burnham (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Kristen S. Slack, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background and Purpose: Following the passage of welfare reform in the mid-1990s and the end of entitlement benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the U.S. economic safety net has become increasingly individualized. In fact, it is no longer clear whether low-income families tend to rely on particular types of public benefits, or whether there are characteristics that differentiate benefit “packaging.” It is also not known whether there are associations between particular types of benefit packages and involvement with the child protection system (CPS), or whether families' experiences of economic hardship moderate associations between benefit packages and CPS involvement. To address this limitation, we rely on new data collected from a survey of 1,200 Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Program recipients to explore (a) whether distinct benefit packages can be identified; (b) whether these benefit packages are associated with CPS involvement within the following 12 months; and (c) whether perceived economic hardship moderates these associations.

Methods: The study sample was obtained from 23 WIC offices throughout the State of Wisconsin. Sample members were enrolled over a 3-month period during which WIC recipients came into a WIC site for benefit redetermination or for benefit enrollment. The outcome variables are investigated CPS reports, and CPS report type (neglect vs. physical abuse). A host of other control variables measuring parenting and parent well-being, family structure, and social support are controlled in logistic regression models. Results: Benefit packages varied according to whether or not the WIC recipient was currently employed. Employment-oriented benefit packages operated in a protective capacity with respect to CPS involvement, whereas non-employment-oriented packages increased the odds of CPS involvement. Families with high levels of perceived economic hardship had an elevated risk of CPS involvement which was stronger for those with non-employment-oriented benefit packages. The addition of other control variables did temper results, suggesting that selection issues were not entirely addressed given the available data.

Conclusions and Implications: A wealth of past research has shown that welfare recipients are at greater risk of CPS involvement than low-income families that have left the welfare rolls. However, since the large declines in welfare caseloads following welfare reform, little is known about the types of benefits associated with CPS involvement. Such information can assist state administrators with cross-systems efforts to identify families that may be at elevated risk of this outcome.

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