How Have Children Fared under Welfare Reform?

By Wilensky, Joe | Human Ecology, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

How Have Children Fared under Welfare Reform?


Wilensky, Joe, Human Ecology


College researchers are looking at the effect of welfare reform on child protective services during the early 1990s. Their findings could guide policy as states implement welfare programs.

Economic and Social Well-Being--Then and Now

Promoting economic and social well-being for families and communities has been a goal of the college since its origin. Two fields--consumer economics and human services--have served as the focus of those efforts.

Beginning in 1925 when the School of Home Economics became a college, studies on topics such as the cost of living for rural families in New York State, household budgets, the relation of national income to families, and home improvements that promote family well-being were conducted. Before World War II, faculty worked with local defense committees to study the production and distribution of consumer goods and services. During the war years they led efforts to improve the efficiency of time and resource management in the home and to help families adjust to changes in the marketplace and the need for women to work outside the home. After the war, their efforts helped families deal with savings, investments, and debt as well as changes in the availability, price, and quality of consumer goods.

Consumer economics became prominent in the 1960s, and President Kennedy formed the Consumer Advisory Council. Helen Canoyer, then dean of the college, was appointed chair of the council, and she also served on the President's Council on Consumer Interests. Faculty pursued studies to help inform consumers about financial management, the dollar value of household work, home buying and financing, housing needs of the aged, credit, and purchasing power.

Human services came to the forefront in 1969 when, with the reorganization of the college, the Department of Community Service Education was formed. The nucleus of this department was the former home economics education program, which had taught teaching methods and provided field experience for home economics educators since 1947. Within the larger program of human ecology, Community Service Education was recognized as the "methods department," and its focus was on the practical application of knowledge for the human services professions. The program offered professional preparation for people planning careers in health and social work as well as home economics education. Although its name was subsequently changed to Department of Human Service Studies, the program remained the same.

The social work program, with courses in human behavior, social policy, and research methods as well as more traditional courses in social work methods and a field practicum, gained national status and was one of a small group of such programs that received national accreditation in the late seventies. Besides undergraduate education, the program was also recognized for its professional development curriculum for social workers in public and private agencies throughout New York State.

In the mid-nineties, to refocus the educational offerings of the college, the social work program was phased out, and the Department of Consumer Economics and Housing merged with the Department of Human Service Studies to form the current Department of Policy Analysis and Management.

For six years before passage of the federal welfare reform act of 1996--officially, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act--states were given preliminary opportunities to experiment with their welfare programs, to make changes to program requirements, and to adjust time limits and income allowances.

How did children in poor families fare as the states experimented with welfare reform?

A team of Human Ecology researchers want to find out. Rosemary Avery and Elizabeth Peters, professors of policy analysis and management, and John Eckenrode, professor of human development, believe important lessons can be learned from the results, especially because the 1996 act has since turned all aspects of welfare programs over to individual states. …

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