A researcher at the University of Missouri (MU) found that the stress of complying with Federal welfare program requirements can put a strain on families, inadvertently having a negative effect on the families’ children.
Associate Professor Colleen Heflin at MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs studied the cognitive scores of children whose families receive assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). She found that 3-year-old children whose families were on TANF had much lower cognitive scores than children not on the program.
“Our findings suggest that the way these assistance programs are structured could have negative effects on child outcomes,” Heflin said in a press release on the MU website. “While TANF traditionally has been the main social program to offer financial support to low-income households with children, current program requirements may create pressures that conflict with the objective of improving child outcomes.”
Heflin said programs like TANF often have requirements that force parents to interact less with their children in order to comply, ranging from random drug testing to attending job-development classes to accepting minimum-wage jobs that require single mothers to be away from their families during evenings and weekends.
“We don’t create policies to hurt young children, we try to help them,” Heflin said. “TANF has created enough pressure on families trying to comply with its regulations that it has actually begun to exert a negative force on these families at the margins.”