Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Low-Income Mothers' Private Safety Nets and Children's Socioemotional Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Low-Income Mothers' Private Safety Nets and Children's Socioemotional Well-Being

Article excerpt

Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (N = 1,162) and the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (N = 1,308), we estimate associations between material and instrumental support available to low-income mothers and young children's socioemotional well-being. In multivariate OLS models, we find mothers' available support is negatively associated with children's behavior problems and positively associated with prosocial behavior in both data sets; associations between available support and children's internalizing and prosocial behaviors attenuate but remain robust in residualized change models. Overall, results support the hypothesis that the availability of a private safety net is positively associated with children's socioemotional adjustment.

Key Words: early childhood, low-income families, middle childhood, social support.

Since the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsi- bility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which replaced federal entitlement to cash assistance with time-limited, work-based assistance under Temporary Assistance for Nee- dy Families (TANF), welfare recipients, and low-income parents generally, have had to support their families increasingly through employment and other nonwelfare sources. Public concern has been raised over families' economic and socioemotional well-being in the wake of these changes (Duncan & Chase-Lansdale, 2001), particularly because research suggests it is extremely difficult to support a family on TANF benefits or earnings from low-wage work alone (Edin & Lein, 1997). As low-income parents struggle to raise children in this policy context, they may tum more often to private sources of material and instrumental support to ease their economic strain and the emotional stress that so often accompanies it.

Much qualitative sociological research has described the essential role material and instrumental support from family and friends can play in low income parents' economic survival (Edin & Lein, 1997; Massey & Denton, 1993; Wilson, 1996). Recently, researchers have begun to quantify these links using newly available, large-scale data sets of low-income families or longitudinal studies of former welfare recipients (Harknett, 2006; Henly, Danziger, & Offer, 2005; Tumey & Harknett, 2007). Although these studies document the way material and instrumental support can improve low-income parents' economic circumstances, they do not examine the implications of that support for children's well-being. Developmental psychological research explores this link by examining informal support as a mediator between economic hardship and child wellbeing, but many such studies rely on small, community-based, or cross-sectional samples or a combination of these and do not estimate the direct link between social support and children's well-being with robust controls for endogenous maternal and child characteristics (Burchinal, Follmer, & Bryant, 1996; Jackson, BrooksGunn, Huang, & Glassman, 2000; McLoyd, Jayaratne, Ceballo, & Borquez, 1994). We aim to bridge these literatures by estimating the association between material and instrumental support and children's socioemotional adjustment in two recent large-scale longitudinal studies of low-income mothers. In doing so, we aim to highlight an important protective factor for children growing up in low-income families.

Defining Private Safety Nets

In the sociology and developmental psychology literatures, "social support" is a broad construct that includes cash, in-kind, and instrumental assistance along with emotional support (Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990) and the quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships (Pattison, DeFrancisco, Wood, Frazier, & Crowder, 1975). We focus here on material support, defined as cash or in-kind financial assistance, and instrumental support, defined as help in caregiving, transportation, and other daily tasks. …

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