January 2012, University of Washington. West Coast Poverty Center: Families in the child welfare system often face barriers meeting their basic needs as well as being able to retain or regain custody of their children. While some of these barriers, such as substance abuse, mental health problems, or limited income, could be addressed through employment or social service receipt, emerging research suggests that a substantial share of child welfare-involved families seems to be grappling with these issues without any connection to employment or some of the major social service programs. With support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Administration for Children and Families, researchers from Partners for Our Children and the West Coast Poverty Center examined data from a survey of child welfare-involved parents in Washington State to measure the extent and nature of “economic disconnection” among these families and to explore the relationship between disconnection and engagement in child welfare services.
This brief explores their findings. We begin with a brief overview of what is known about economic disconnection. We then present findings from the Washington State survey about how many child welfare involved families are economically disconnected and how these families’ economic circumstances and their patterns of engagement with the child welfare system compare with those of families who are connected to the labor market or social services. We end with a summary of the reactions of policymakers and practitioners to this research as well as their suggestions for extending the work in the future. Link to Brief