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

Welfare Reform and Parenting: Reasonable Expectations
P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale Laura D. Pittman


Although the primary goals of federal welfare reform legislation were to move welfare mothers into the workforce and reduce births outside of marriage, promotion of responsible parenting was also an important underlying theme. Parenting is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon, however, encompassing a wide range of functions related to nurturing, discipline, stimulation, values, activities, and routines. This article provides a framework for assessing the impact of welfare reform on various dimensions of parenting, with the following key findings:

  • Many aspects of life affect parenting and child development, such as parent characteristics, child characteristics, family economic resources, family structure, parental mental health, marital or partner relationships, and the quality of parents' kin and social networks.

  • About two-thirds of states are using federal welfare funds to promote better parenting through programs such as home visits to new parents and parenting classes, but virtually no state parenting programs have been evaluated.

  • Welfare reform appears to have limited effects on parenting. The only dimension of parenting significantly affected by some welfare demonstration programs was parents' choice of child care settings and extracurricular activities for their children.

  • The programs with the greatest positive impact on parenting were those with more generous work supports and more flexible work requirements. Not only did these programs lead to different choices concerning child care and activities for preschool and school-age children, but they also resulted in more stable marriages and less violence between partners, which also could lead to improved parenting.

The authors conclude that many important aspects of the connection between welfare reform and parenting have yet to be examined, and that further research is needed to identify the ways states' welfare programs can promote better parenting.