Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Domains of Child Well-Being

06/01/2002

Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center, along with colleagues at the federal and state levels participating in the Project on State-Level Child Outcomes, have offered a conceptual framework that organizes and clarifies the pathways through which welfare reform can impact children. This framework is displayed in Figure 10-1.

Figure 10-1 Child Trends, Inc. conceptual framework for child well-being--how welfare policies might affect children

In this conceptual framework, state policies regarding PRWORA will directly effect family income, employment, family formation outcomes such as marriage or out-of-wedlock births, and attitudes of the adults in the case, such as self-esteem or feelings of being in control of one's life. Changes in these four areas will further influence the family and child's psychological well-being, the stability of the child's home, involvement of the absent parent (through child support enforcement), use of health and human services, and consumption of goods and services spent on the child. As a single mother copes with job training, new employment, transportation problems, childcare dilemmas, and confusion about eligibility for supplemental services, the child's physical home environment, relationship to the parent, and time with the parent can be expected to change. Such changes in the capacity and day-to-day schedule of maternal caretaking very likely will, in turn, impact the child's educational experiences, health and safety, and social and emotional adjustment.

This conceptual framework evinces the multifaceted ways that welfare programs can influence a range of child outcomes. The framework offers a critical organizing logic about how welfare reform impacts children, one that can be used to shape research agendas and frame research questions. The framework was developed to guide survey researchers studying about welfare, but it also serves as a useful reference for the inclusion of administrative data in research initiatives. Administrative data are far more useful for estimating some components of this model than others. Specifically, administrative data rarely contain in-depth information about parental psychological well-being or home environment, parenting practices, or social and emotional adjustment of children. Survey research is much better suited to these components. Administrative data can, however, be used to estimate family stability and turbulence through the inclusion of information about household changes and movement in and out of foster care. Administrative data also can help explain the changes in the utilization of supplemental health and human services--especially Medicaid, CHIP, Food Stamps, or WIC--which could be an indirect result of welfare changes. Finally, administrative data have the potential to measure health and safety outcomes, including abuse and neglect, injury, and mortality.

The remaining sections of this paper are developed to assist researchers in defining indicators for domains of child well-being and to clarify substantive issues that must be considered in applying these indicators toward addressing key evaluation questions about the impact of welfare reform. The paper is divided into sections roughly corresponding to the constructs and domains of child well-being offered by Child Trends (1999): (1) health, (2) safety (child welfare), (3) education, and (4) social and emotional adjustment (juvenile justice). For each domain we will identify information that directly describes or reflects on child well-being. Each section also includes a description of key data that are available to inform us about children's outcomes. For each domain we discuss exemplary efforts to use these data for evaluation of welfare reform. Finally, we conclude by discussing some of the scientific sensibilities that should be respected in the use of such data during research on welfare reform, including a discussion of linkages between population surveys and administrative data.

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