Enhancing the Well-Being of Young Children and Families in the Context of Welfare Reform: Lessons from Early Childhood, TANF, and Family Support Programs

Knitzer, Jane; Cauthen, Nancy K.

This report examines emerging approaches to enhance the well-being of young children and families in the context of welfare reform. It addresses three questions: ■ How are child development and family support programs serving low-income families with young children responding to new welfare policies and practices? ■ What kinds of partnerships (e.g., state-local, public-private, interagency) are developing between those serving low-income families with young children and those implementing welfare changes? ■ What opportunities and challenges are emerging for early childhood programs and agencies implementing welfare changes as they strive to improve outcomes for both adults/parents and young children? The findings, representing an early, point-in-time exploration, are based on indepth conversations in the fall of 1998 with staff from 11 early childhood programs and initiatives, as well as state policymakers, foundation officers, and others involved with these efforts either through partnerships or funding strategies. The programs and initiatives profiled reflect both direct service strategies and strategies to promote formal and informal connections between early childhood programs and those implementing welfare reforms. All were identified through a national nomination process (see Box 1 for a summary of the methodology). The project is a partnership between the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) and Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) under the sponsorship of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report is organized in four sections. The first sets the context, describing the importance and the challenge of integrating child and family development strategies with welfare policies and practices. The second section presents the findings in three parts: (1) a description of six overall approaches to integrating child development and family support with welfare reform, highlighting the noteworthy and replicable characteristics of the individual programs and initiatives, (2) an analysis of the specific strategies that emerged across the sites, and (3) an overview of common themes and concerns. The third section sets the findings in a larger perspective, offering some reflections and observations based on the insights of the informants. The final section draws out the implications of the findings and observations for TANF administrators, early childhood program leaders, staff, and others seeking to enhance outcomes for young children and to implement welfare reform effectively. Appendix A provides a matrix that summarizes the characteristics of the programs and initiatives studied; Appendix B provides individual profiles. Resources relevant to integrating child and family development with welfare reform are listed in Appendix C.


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National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University

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National Center for Children in Poverty
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February 22, 2019