Welfare cuts will hurt children, too
|||Final checks in the mail as welfare reforms begin|
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
In the midst of the discussion of welfare reform lingers a disturbing question arises: What about the children?
Entire families not just parents will be cut from financial assistance after they exhaust their five-year limit. Some social agency workers and others complain that children will then be punished for the actions of their parents.
Allowing children to continue receiving cash assistance while living with their parents who have been cut "is just not the design of the program," said state Department of Human Services director Susan Chandler. "It's a five-year temporary program. People need to understand that it's temporary and they have to earn enough money to begin to take care of their kids."
Chandler said if parents who have been cut off welfare lack the finances to care for their children, their children will be eligible for up to five more years of cash assistance by living with a relative.
Children who have no relatives willing to care for them, however, have few options.
Chandler said child welfare workers are prepared for an increase in abuse and neglect cases, but she added, "families are pretty resilient and they don't want the state to take their kids away."
Poor children tend to score lower on national tests of reading, math and vocabulary and are twice as likely to repeat a grade than upper-income children, according to a 1998 Children's Defense Fund report. Poor children also typically have more behavior problems and are at a higher risk of developing health problems.
"Children are very much influenced by the environment that their parents create," said Sylvia Yuen, director of the University of Hawai'i Center on the Family. "Parents are setting the example for how to behave under stressful times. And do parents begin to problem solve ... or do they let the situation defeat them? Whatever it is, understand there is a good probability the kids will learn and apply it to their own lives."
But Yuen stressed that poor children and families are not necessarily doomed to a life of poverty.
"Poverty in and of itself will not defeat the kids," she said. "They can still be very successful in life."
At least some schools and others in the community are also preparing to offer support to children and families, although they admit there is only so much they can do.
Palolo School principal Ruth Silberstein said her staff is working to provide support to students in anticipation of the upcoming welfare cuts. About 98 percent of Silberstein's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and "quite a bit of our families will be cut off," she said.
"Some students have been saying, 'We might move,' and they feel unstable about that," she said. "It's affecting them. The instability is setting in. ... Within the next three months there's going to be a lot of changes in their lives."
Yuen said parents need to share with their children information about what is going on in the family and ask them for help, whether it be working a part-time job or assisting with household chores.
"It will bring the family together and have everyone working as a team through these crises," she said. "And what we know from the literature is that kids really need a stable environment."