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Journal Issue: Children and Welfare Reform Volume 12 Number 1 Winter/Spring 2002

Reforms and Child Development
Aletha C. Huston


Since their inception in the 1930s, U.S. welfare and income support programs have played an important role in providing benefits to children. Unlike programs directly targeted to children, however, welfare programs are designed to produce economic and employment impacts on adults, so that any effects on children would be indirect. This article explores the influence of such programs on children's well-being and development, first by defining goals for children's healthy development, then by proposing a framework for understanding the impact of welfare policies on children. A review of the literature within each component of this framework reveals the following:

  • Measures of children's well-being should encompass physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development.

  • The physical and material environment, family environment, and social and community environment can all affect a child's healthy development.

  • Policies designed to increase maternal employment, reduce welfare use, and strengthen families do not necessarily lead to more positive environmental contexts and increased child well-being.

The author concludes that to ensure positive impacts on children, welfare and income support policies must move beyond their exclusive emphasis on adults and include goals that focus on improving children's social and physical environments at home and in the community.