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Report on Welfare-to-Work Programs Calls for Focus on Children's Services

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Welfare-to-work programs can be "powerful catalysts'' to improve the health and educational outcomes of children as well as the employment status of their parents, a new report from the Foundation for Child Development concludes.

At a time when states are plunging ahead with welfare-reform proposals that offer rewards and sanctions to modify the behavior of welfare recipients, little attention is being paid to the well-being of welfare children, the group suggests.

While much of the discussion surrounding welfare reform has focused on improving the education, training, and job readiness of adults, the report notes, these efforts will do little to break the cycle of poverty if they do not address children's needs at the same time.

"Neither society nor individual families will be better off if parents are helped to move from welfare to employment, but children fail to attain the competencies they need to become productive adults,'' the report states.

The report highlights ways of using the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training program established under the Family Support Act, the federal welfare-reform law, to "pursue the dual goals of economic self-sufficiency for families and healthy development of children.''

That goal, it suggests, has implications for ensuring children's readiness to learn, which is one of six national education goals set by the President and the governors.

Strong Programs Cited

The report profiles eight programs that it says are taking "important first steps toward realizing the hope that welfare reform will truly help at-risk children'' and lists resources that can be used to pursue "two-generation self-sufficiency programs.''

The six elements of an ideal two-generational welfare-reform program, according to the report, are:

  • Assessment of child and family needs;
  • High-quality child care and early childhood education;
  • Services that strengthen parenting;
  • Preventive health services for children and parents;
  • Services leading to employment and self sufficiency; and
  • Case management.

While the authors "found no evidence of a single program containing all of these elements,'' noted Susan Blank, a senior program associate for the foundation, they identified several initiatives that illustrate many of them.

The report notes, for example, that Denver's Family Opportunity program, which is managed by a public-private partnership, has an "unusually strong commitment to serving the entire [welfare] family.'' It offers case-management, a drop-in child-care center, developmental screening for children and activities to encourage parents to participate; family-needs assessments; referrals to other services through an interagency agreement; and a children's task force that has advocated for improvements in the child-care system.

The report profiles JOBS programs in Kentucky and Hawaii that also highlight two-generational planning to benefit children as well as adults. In addition, it describes an Oregon JOBS program offering strong support for adolescent parents and their children; a child-care resource and referral agency serving Baltimore JOBS participants; and efforts to enhance child care and early childhood education for JOBS families in Illinois.

Other initiatives described in the report include a "promising collaboration'' between JOBS and Head Start in Philadelphia and a health-services orientation provided to Tampa, Fla., JOBS participants.

Copies of the report, "Pathways to Self-Sufficiency for Two Generations: Designing Welfare-to-Work Programs that Strengthen Families and Benefit Children,'' are available free of charge from the Foundation for Child Development, 345 East 46th St., Room 700, New York, N.Y. 10017.

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