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Ways to break welfare's dependency cycle get a closer look.

Cries of "what's wrong with the welfare system" are filling newspaper articles and political speeches, but often the issue is treated superficially.

A special session at NLC's recent Congressional City Conference offered participants a chance to take a closer look at the welfare reform landscape.

Two complementary analyses of current efforts to reduce welfare dependency were offered by presenters Rick Ferreira of the American Public Welfare Association and Sheila Smith, director for research at the Foundation for Child Development.

Ferreira described a welfare system operating in an extremely volatile environment. The new JOBS welfare-to-work program mandated by the Family Support Act of 1988 is being implemented in the midst of a recession, which has driven up caseloads. States are going forward with JOBS, with many placing a heavy emphasis on education activities.

The spotlight, however, has been on cutbacks in benefits in a number of states. In a far less publicized step, eleven states have increased benefits. Meanwhile, Maryland, New Jersey, California, and other states are considering new proposals for changes in the welfare system, primarily by tying receipt of benefits to certain behaviors, such as having children immunized or making certain that they attend school regularly.

Smith briefed the audience on a new report issued by the Foundation for Child Development: Pathways to Self-Sufficiency for Two Generations. The programs described in the report provide evidence that the existing JOBS program can be a catalyst for welfare reform efforts that have potential to break an inter-generational cycle of poverty. The key, according to Pathways, is to implement JOBS as a two-generation intervention that combines education and job training services for parents with supports to help their children grow up healthy and ready to learn.

The report describes an ideal two-generation program as one consisting of six elements: 1) assessment of child and family needs, 2) high quality child care and early childhood education, 3) services that strengthen parenting, 4) preventive health services for children and parents, 5) self-sufficiency services that can lead to adequate-wage employment, and 6) case management.

The report's authors, said Smith, found no evidence of a single program containing all of these elements. But, she added, the report does document a number of initiatives that are moving in this direction, even though JOBS is facing the usual challenges of early implementation further complicated by a recession.

Pathways contains eight in-depth profiles of such initiatives. These include Portland, Oregon's teen Parent Program, which enrolls JOBS teens; a JOBS-Head Start collaboration in Philadelphia; the promotion of preventive health services in Tampa, Florida's JOBS; and coordination between Denver's JOBS program and city-wide services for children and families.

According to Smith, the innovative practices highlighted in the report present a far more positive vision of possibilities for welfare reform than many of the proposals now under consideration in states around the country.

Susan Blank is with the Foundation for Child Development in New York City. Pathways to Self-Sufficiency for Two Generations is available from the Foundation at 345 East 46th Street, New York, New York 10017-3562 or at (212) 697-3150. Single copies are free.
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Author:Blank, Susan
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 6, 1992
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