Panel Paper: Doubly Disconnected: Family Income Trajectories Surrounding Child Welfare Removal

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 1:50 PM
Nambe (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ji Young Kang1, Jennifer Romich1, Jennifer Hook2, JoAnn Lee3 and Maureen O. Marcenko1, (1)University of Washington, (2)University of Southern California, (3)George Mason University
During public discussion of reforms to the American public cash assistance systems in the 1990s, scholars and activists raised concerns about the impact of welfare reform on a particularly vulnerable sector of the population, families who find themselves involved in the child welfare system.  Two decades after the early stages of welfare reform, about one in five low-educated single mothers is economically disconnected, neither earning income nor receiving public cash assistance.  Previous cross-sectional research[1] identified one-quarter of families with children in an out-of-home child welfare placement as currently economically disconnected. Parents in economically disconnected households present unique challenges to state systems in that they report higher levels of unmet needs and lower levels of investment in working with child welfare services than other child welfare involved families, jeopardizing their ability to safely reunify with their children.

Understanding how families come to lose employment or benefits and have children removed requires new knowledge about the interactions between employment, social insurance, public cash assistance and child welfare systems over time. Are the public systems working in concert or at odds?  Does the means-tested safety net support or undercut stability for child welfare families?  This article provides evidence relevant to these questions through examining employment patterns and the use of major means-tested support programs among families who become involved with the child welfare system. 

Drawing on a unique merged administrative dataset from Washington State we track household employment and participation in cash and food assistance for 18 months prior to and following a focal child’s first out-of-home child welfare placement in the years 2000-2010.  About one in nine families is disconnected for the full period prior to removal.  Others follow more dynamic patterns, including one in seven families who lose employment in the months before removal, most of whom do not subsequently receive unemployment insurance or public assistance. Results show how public solutions – including the expansion of concurrent benefits policies that allow families to continue cash assistance while children are temporarily out of the home – could stabilize families.  NOTE: Permission to present findings will be obtained prior to the conference.

[1] Maureen Marcenko, Jennifer Hook, Jennifer Romich and JoAnn Lee. 2012. Multiple Jeopardy: Poor, Economically Disconnected, and Child Welfare Involved. Child Maltreatment 17(3): 195 - 206