The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 changed cash welfare from a system of income maintenance as an entitlement to low-income families to one in which assistance to families is both limited and temporary, and in which work and economic self-sufficiency are emphasized. The emerging emphasis on work has led many states to significantly narrow the exemptions from welfare-related work requirements. Under prior Federal law, states could opt to adjust the young-child work exemption from its Federally-mandated level, which exempted parents with a child under three years old, to exempt only parents with a child under one year old. In 1998, 22 states used the new flexibility granted under PRWORA to require parents to work if their youngest child was less than one year old. This report examines the state and local policies and practices that encourage and support the activities of welfare-reliant parents of infants who are required to engage in work and school activities.
Juggling work and family responsibilities is a formidable challenge for two-parent families with young children, but it is even harder for single parents, who make up the majority of the welfare caseload. Even more challenging for single parents who work is the task of caring for an infant because infant care is generally less available, more expensive, and harder to assess in terms of quality. As states seek ways to support families with infants in their transition from welfare to work, many questions emerge for researchers and policymakers alike. How successful is the welfare-to-work transition for parents of infants? What special challenges do these parents face in balancing their parenting activities with required work or school activities? What supportive services are critical to continued participation in work and school activities, and ultimately, to a successful transition from welfare to work? Is continuous, reliable, affordable, and good-quality infant care available to these parents? Have states taken the opportunity to link these families with child care that can promote the health and development of infants?
In an effort to answer these questions and, ultimately, to address the issue of providing infant care for single, working, low-income parents, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) to conduct the Study of Infant Care Under Welfare Reform. The study was designed to provide information about the strategies states and communities are using to help parents of infants make the transition to school or work while promoting the health and development of their infants, and about the policy and program challenges states and communities are facing in this effort. The information is intended both to inform policymakers about the experience of several communities and to build a foundation for future research on the effectiveness of particular programs, policies, and strategies in supporting the transition to work or school while promoting infant health and development.
The study has three phases:
A general information-gathering phase, focusing on the work-, school-, and child care-related policies and programs in 22 states that required parents of infants to work in 1998, when the study was launched.
An in-depth study phase, focusing on welfare and child care program policy and practice in eight communities, and on the experiences of welfare-reliant parents of infants in these sites.
A research design phase, focusing on the evaluation of programs, policies, and strategies designed to support parents’ transitions to work and their infants’ health and development.
This report presents the findings from the first two phases of the study, with an emphasis on the second phase. We end with a summary of research directions, which will be expanded upon in a forthcoming report. (author abstract)