- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

When welfare rules were changed in 1996 to require parents to work or face penalties, researchers expected to see problems in the young children in these families.
Instead, the teen-age children of working welfare parents are showing signs of distress, including lower academic achievement and greater behavioral problems, according to a study released today.
Children of welfare parents are already a high risk group, and there was widespread concern that moving their mothers to work would be detrimental to young school-age children, said Jennifer L. Brooks of Child Trends Inc., a research group in Washington.
Now data seem to be showing that welfare-to-work has had positive effects on young children but "is making things even worse" for teens, she said.
"Even though we can't say for certain why these negative outcomes for adolescents are occurring, these findings are significant because they occur in areas important to young people's futures," said Ms. Brooks.
The unexpected findings on teens come from two U.S. studies and a Canadian study, all conducted by Manpower Demonstration Re-search Corp. of New York, said Ms. Brooks and her colleagues, Elizabeth C. Hair and Martha J. Zaslow.
The three studies compared welfare families who were assigned to welfare-to-work programs with a control group of welfare families who were not required to work.
In Florida, researchers found that teens with parents in the welfare-to-work program were more likely to have poor grades and be suspended than teens whose parents weren't in the program, said the Child Trends researchers, all of whom have doctoral degrees in psychology or human development.
Similarly, in Minnesota, working welfare parents were more likely to get calls from school about their teens' low grades and unruly behavior.
In Canada's Self-Sufficiency Project, teens whose welfare parents worked were more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs and get into delinquent activity than peers whose parents weren't in the project.
The Child Trends researchers speculated that teens of working welfare parents — most of whom are single mothers — may be reacting to several things.
First, working mothers may be acting more harshly toward their teens, due to increased stress and decreased energy. The Canadian study, for instance, found that working parents were yelling and hitting their teens more frequently than previously.
Secondly, working mothers may be doing less monitoring of their teens — enforcing fewer rules about friends and curfews.
Finally, working mothers may expect their teens to take on more "adult" responsibilities — babysit siblings, clean the house, cook and even find jobs. This in turn may cause some teens to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Moreover, teens who are asked to shoulder adult responsibilities at home may rebel when they are later told they can't do certain things. School rules "that treat them like a child" may start to seem intolerable, Ms. Brooks said.

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