Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:30 PM
Farragut Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Purpose: This study reports on interviews with 60 SSI-parents who have children receiving TANF in San Francisco. To qualify for SSI, one must have serious physical or mental health symptoms that limit work for at least 12 months as well as few economic resources. SSI provides greater monthly income than TANF and does not include work requirements or time limits on aid. Under SSI, however, parents and their children are not automatically linked to social work or other services, even though the parents' limitations are debilitating and the children are likely to be very poor for their entire childhood. In this situation of severe disability and economic hardship, how are parents and their children faring? The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the everyday lives of these families, the problems they face and the strengths and resources they possess. Methods: Sixty parents, randomly selected from San Francisco's caseload of child-only CalWORKs cases with English-speaking SSI parents, were interviewed in 2010 by phone or in person, based on the respondent's preference. Study measures assessed: parent and child health and mental health; existence of practical and social support; experiences of material hardship, including food insecurity; and involvement with CPS. Results: Most respondents were dealing with multiple limitations in everyday activities due to physical health problems, mental health problems, or both. Additionally, a large percentage of children in these families suffered from physical and mental health problems. Behavior problems were exceedingly common; two-thirds of parents of children over age 5 reported significant problems such as school suspension, fighting and drug or alcohol use. Experiences of material hardship were widespread. One in four respondents had been hungry and unable to buy needed food in the past year, and a large majority reported other types of material hardship. Child Protective Services had been in contact with one-third of the respondents. Parents who had children suffering from fair/poor health or a chronic health condition, however, were much more likely than average to have experienced a contact with CPS. Conclusions and implications: Although parents on SSI have substantially more income than families solely reliant on TANF, they are also (by definition) more disabled and unable to earn income to supplement their benefits. The picture painted by this research is of parents facing very considerable challenges with their own health, their children's health, their children's behavior, and the household's material well-being. Necessary supports for these families include priority access to high-quality child care and preschool settings, housing assistance and greater collaboration between the SSI and TANF programs. Since these SSI-parents are still connected to the TANF program, program staff with responsibility for their case might explore ways to foster community and mutual aid among the disabled parents. Finally, the numerous CPS contacts among respondents suggest that many of them have difficulties in parenting. Greater cooperation between SSI and CPS services might improve support of these families, potentially reducing the risk of foster placement.
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