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Fragile Families and Welfare Reform: An Introduction.

Publication Year: 
2001
Personal Author: 
Garfinkel, I.
McLanahan, S. S.
Tienda, M.
Brooks-Gunn, J.
Journal Article
Page Count: 
0

The authors provide an overview of two issues of the Children and Youth Services Review that report the findings on a study of the impact of welfare reform on unwed parents. The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being study compared the family situations of 3,600 children of unmarried parents and 1,100 children born to married parents during the same time period. Mothers and fathers were interviewed shortly after the birth of their child with additional interviews planned for 12, 30, and 48 months. The questions addressed the characteristics of parents eligible for welfare benefits in the context of their ability to support themselves and care for their children; the level of cooperation between parents; the benefits and pitfalls of father involvement for mothers and children; the impact of local social policies; and the labor market. An analysis of data from 2,325 mothers and 1,759 fathers in seven cities found that half of the unwed mothers received welfare during the previous year, compared to 13 percent of married mothers. There was no significant difference in the welfare participation of unmarried women who were cohabitating and those who were not. More than 80 percent of the mothers who were still romantically involved with the father of their child received financial support from their partner, compared to 38 percent who no longer had a relationship with their child's father. Almost two-thirds of the unwed mothers had at least one barrier to employment, including age younger than 20, no high school degree, no work experience, and 3 or more children. Unmarried mothers who were not cohabitating had the most number of obstacles to employment and will need greater support to comply with the work requirements of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. Substance abuse, depressive symptoms, and other health-risk behaviors were most common among unmarried men who did not have a relationship with their child's mother, factors that will affect their ability to be employed and support their child. These fathers are at risk for violent and aggressive behavior that could be aggravated by child support enforcement. Father involvement is associated with better birth outcomes in married and cohabitating couples. The majority of unmarried couples have high expectations for marriage. However, these expectations are reduced by factors such as alcohol and drug use and physical violence, which also are harmful to children. Policies designed to encourage marriage between parents should consider that marriage is not appropriate when it would place child and parent at risk. A study of the effects of welfare requirements found that increased access to benefits promotes the formation of a family structure, excluding marriage, by unwed parents, while strong child support enforcement policies deter it. Implications of the findings are discussed. 70 references.

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