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

191 Troubled and Poor: Poverty, Policy, and the Child Welfare System

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
Burnham (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Jennifer L. Romich, PhD, University of Washington
Corey S. Shdaimah, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Although most economically poor parents never abuse nor neglect their children, child protective services (CPS) involvement and poverty are strongly intertwined (Gordon, 1988; Pelton, 1989). Poor families are more likely to come into contact with the child welfare system, and – once in contact – are overrepresented in negative outcomes such as child removal and length of time before reunification (Shook, 1999; Wells & Guo 2003).

Not surprisingly, many families known to CPS are also involved in safety net programs serving all low-income families. Over the past two decades, these programs have evolved from being based largely on an entitlement to cash assistance (under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program) to a package of individual supports often conditional on work (under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, TANF, program established in 1996). Today's programs for assisting the poor—short-term cash assistance, medical care, tax credits, and limited child care support, among others—offer both more flexibility but also more challenges. Different programs require separate application and certifications processes and many programs – child care in particular – have waiting lists or other restrictions.

These changes in anti-poverty programs seem to have increased the risk relationship between being economically poor and experiencing poor CPS outcomes (Waldfogel, 2004, Well & Gau 2004). Without intervention by Social Workers and others who work in and design systems to support families at risk of child abuse and neglect, these trajectories may continue. Taking up the SSWR 2012 theme of “Research That Makes a Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy” this panel presents new research about the connections between economic resources and CPS involvement, with a focus on policy-level intervention.

The first paper, titled “The Economic ‘Safety Net' and Child Protection System Involvement” investigates important facet of the post-welfare-reform era, the need for families to “package,” or put together, benefits from different sources. Using new survey data from the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, authors find that recipients who had put together packages of benefits that supported employment (such as child care) were less likely than general WIC recipients to have a CPS case substantiated.

The second paper, titled “Double Jeopardy: Economic Disconnection among Child Welfare-Involved Families,” uses interview data from caregivers who have recently had a child removed from their home by CPS. The authors find that about one in five such families were “economically disconnected,” neither working nor receiving cash assistance. Economically disconnected families also report less engagement with caseworkers, a factor strongly associated with longer out-of-home placements.

The third paper “Providing Medicaid Coverage for Former Foster Youth: Issues in Implementing the Affordable Care Act” addresses health care coverage in young adulthood, an important economic and policy issue. The Chafee Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 expanded the availability of services and financial support for these youth, but the effect of this effort depends in large part on choices made at the state level. This paper is the first to document and analyze how states have implemented the Chafee Option.

* noted as presenting author
Double Jeopardy: Economic Disconnection Among Child Welfare-Involved Families
Maureen O. Marcenko, PhD, University of Washington; Jennifer L. Hook, PhD, University of Washington
The Economic “Safety Net” and Child Protection System Involvement
Kristen S. Slack, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
See more of: Symposia