Transitions On and Off AFDC: Implications for Parenting and Children's Cognitive Development



The goal of current national and state legislation on welfare reform is to decrease the number of people who are dependent on public assistance, most of whom are mothers and their young children. Mothers' patterns of welfare receipt in the 3 years following the birth of a child were examined vis-à-vis their associations with maternal emotional distress (General Health Questionnaire), provision of learning experiences (Home Observation of the Measurement of the Environment), parenting behavior, and the child's cognitive test score (Stanford-Binet) in the third year of life. The data set was the Infant Health and Development Program, an eight-site randomized clinical trial designed to test the efficacy of educational and family support services in reducing developmental delays in low-birthweight, preterm infants (N= 833). Strong negative associations were found between receiving welfare and parenting behavior and child outcomes at age 3 years. Outcomes varied depending on when the mother received public assistance (earlier or later in her child's first 3 years) and family poverty status on leaving welfare. The parenting behavior of mothers who had left welfare by their child's third birthday was more likely to be authoritarian if she had left public assistance without also leaving poverty. Implications of these findings for the well-being of children in low-income families are discussed.