Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Churners: A Focus Group Analysis of the Return Rate of Former Rural TANF Recipients

Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Churners: A Focus Group Analysis of the Return Rate of Former Rural TANF Recipients

Article excerpt

A grant from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke Committee on Faculty Development and special funds from the Office of the Chancellor funded this research. The findings were presented at the 25th Annual National Institute on Social and Human Services in Rural Areas, July, 21, 2000, in Presque Isle, Maine.

With many states approaching lifetime benefit limits for their welfare recipients, the study of welfare recidivism is more important than ever. Yet little is known about families and individuals with high return rates (Born, 1999). Studies estimate that approximately one-fifth of welfare dependents--known as churners--return to the system after only one month of independence (Welfare and Child Support Research and Training Group, 1999; Born, Caudill, Spera & Kunz, 1998). But these studies do not offer insight into the factors that induce people to return to welfare dependency.

In rural Robeson County; North Carolina, the most effective methodology to uncover these factors was the focus group. Two issues were important for laying the foundation for the focus group: operational definitions and the configuration of the focus group.

To be classified as a churner, our research subjects had to be current recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or a TANF recipient within the last three months, and had to have been successfully removed from the TANE roster only to return as a recipient at least once.

Of the 19 recipients who met the criteria, seven agreed to participate. Of the seven, three withdrew because of personal reasons [1] and did not participate. Four women participated in our focus group interview. The interviewees ranged in age from 22 to 49. Two were African American, one was Hispanic, and one was Native American.

Configuration of Focus Group

Staff at the Robeson County Department of Social Services (DSS) and the researchers mutually expressed concern regarding the level of participation. The agenda within the focus group would include extremely sensitive and confidential issues. Because we believed that recipients would be resistant, all agreed that collecting an adequate sample would be a herculean task. During a conference between researchers and DSS staff, three vital aspects for motivating recipients to attend were uncovered.

First, we knew that if child care was a problem, recipients would not attend. As a result, a contract with the University of North Carolina-Pembroke's (UNCP) day care center was established. Thus, recipients would be assured their children would receive care by a North Carolina state-licensed child care facility that is frequently used by faculty; staff, and students. In addition, since the focus group meeting and the child care facility are located on the campus, parents would be within a short walking distance from the child care provider.

Second, Marson and Powell (in press) illustrate that the most compelling problem for becoming welfare independent in a rural environment is lack of transportation. As a result, a contract was made with the Council of Governments (COG) Transit. COG Transit would provide transportation to UNCP for recipients and their children. After completion of the focus group, the transportation service would return recipients and their children to their homes.

Third, in terms of enticing recipients to voluntarily attend, all agreed that child care and transportation would not be sufficient. The DSS staff and the researchers believed that offering lunch would be a key factor in gaining participation with a seemingly resistant sample. Thus, after each recipient was asked to participate, the alternatives for the lunch menus were addressed. Recipients would become involved in selecting the lunch menu.


Several concepts emerged during focus group analysis that helped explain why some rural welfare recipients become churners. …

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