Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers. 3.4 Discussion

06/01/2004

The two surveys analyzed, SIPP and NSCAW, provide largely complementary views of children in TANF child-only cases living with relative caregivers. The samples of children are markedly different, as are the questions asked of them. In both cases, the samples of TANFCOR children are small, so statistical comparison is limited. However, the comparison groups, similar across the data sets, allow a descriptive analysis of the relative well-being of children in the TANFCOR group, which was the goal of this analysis. Despite their statistical limitations, these descriptive analyses also allow, to some extent, a look at the relative impact of public assistance and caregiver assistance on child well-being.

Both SIPP and NSCAW suggest that children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers are similar to other children on TANF on many measures of well-being, with some indicators of vulnerability.

Comparing children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers to other children on TANF who live with their parents, researchers found little evidence that TANFCOR children are worse off in terms of well-being. However, there are specific areas of vulnerability or concern from NSCAW and SIPP. These include indicators of mental health problems, trauma, and educational problems such as being held back a grade. It is likely that some children who need to live with a relative caregiver will have psychological needs related to both the separation from their parents and events precipitating the separation. Depending upon when the separation occurs, it can affect educational outcomes and well-being generally. Again, it is important to remember that the NSCAW sample is drawn from a child welfare population, so that comparisons will differ from those in SIPP.

Compared to other children in out-of-home-care, children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers have generally favorable status, suggesting a positive caregiver effect.

Compared to other children in out-of-home-care, TANFCOR children in NSCAW tend to have a favorable status with respect to health care utilization, developmental indicators, and mental health. The advantage appears to reflect caregiver effect or child characteristics, due to the fact that other categories of children in out-of-home care (KINCARE and FOSTER) should entail higher levels of services available to children. The SIPP findings are almost the inverse, with KINCARE children having higher levels of well-being in most spheres. While many KINCARE children in SIPP have no child welfare involvement, and the NSCAW ones necessarily do, these patterns are somewhat surprising and could be productively analyzed. A multivariate analysis could address the relative impact of resources and caregiver characteristics, while controlling for age differences and policy differences by state, if they were known. Depending on the state program boundaries, TANFCOR children may be similar to children in kinship foster care or foster care, but receiving fewer services and supports.

The analyses were limited by the small numbers of children who are child-only TANF cases living with relative caregivers, as well as the lack of state-level identifying information in the unrestricted-use NSCAW data set. A simple multivariate analysis with careful coding of benefits received to care for the child in question might allow a better distinction between caregiver and resources effects of well-being. This distinction is relevant to the policy considerations regarding how best to protect the well-being of these vulnerable children.

Endnote

(2) The reference person is the point-person in the sampled household  usually the owner or renter of record.

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