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Child Care Subsidies and TANF

A Synthesis of Three Studies on Systems, Policies, and Parents

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Document date: April 10, 2006
Released online: April 10, 2006

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


Over recent decades, policymakers have recognized that helping parents on welfare pay for child care is essential to help them move from welfare to work. As such, child care subsidies that help defray some of or all the cost of child care have consistently been an integral part of federal and state welfare reform efforts (box 1). They were a major focus of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), and the cash assistance and welfare-to-work program it established (the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, program). Although TANF families make up a relatively small proportion of the families that receive child care subsidy funding (with some additional families receiving child care support through TANF direct spending), child care is a key component of TANF welfare-to-work programs' efforts to help families move toward self-sufficiency.

Although the connection between child care as a work support and the TANF program's mandate to help welfare recipients obtain employment is conceptually simple, the actual processes and policies used by states and localities to ensure child care assistance is available for TANF families moving from welfare to work is far more complicated. The complexity arises in part because child care subsidy and TANF welfare-to-work programs represent two devolved systems that differ in their goals, target populations, administrative structures, and policy frameworks.

Despite the critical role child care subsidies play in welfare-to-work efforts, little research has examined how sites have approached putting these services together for families. The Urban Institute engaged in a multiyear study to help fill the information gap about the complex interactions of these two systems on behalf of welfare families (box 2). This study occurred in three phases.

The first phase, conducted in 2001, examined these issues from the perspective of welfare-to-work and child care administrators and staff in 11 local sites, and documented how these systems were set up and connected, the factors that aided or impeded coordination between the systems, and the processes TANF clients needed to complete as they moved through the welfare-to-work and child care subsidy systems while on welfare. (The findings from this phase are reported in Gina Adams, Pamela Holcomb, Kathleen Snyder, Robin Koralek, and Jeffrey Capizzano, Child Care Subsidies for TANF Families: The Nexus of Systems and Policies [Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2006].)

The second phase of the study examined a range of issues around subsidy use among parents who leave TANF. It included data from these 11 sites, as well as an examination of research on welfare leavers and subsidy patterns, a review of state policies regarding child care subsidies for welfare leavers for a range of states, and interviews with national experts to discuss the retention of child care subsidies as parents transition off cash assistance. (The findings from this phase are reported in Gina Adams, Robin Koralek, and Karin Martinson, Child Care Subsidies and Leaving Welfare: Policy Issues and Strategies [Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2006].)

The third phase used focus groups in four of the 11 sites to explore the connections between the welfare-to-work and child care systems from the perspective of parents. These focus groups were made up of parents currently receiving TANF and child care subsidies, as well as parents who had left TANF within the previous year and were still receiving child care subsidies. (The findings from this phase are reported in Kathleen Snyder, Sara Bernstein, and Robin Koralek, Parents' Perspectives on Child Care Subsidies and Moving from Welfare to Work [Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2006].)

This document highlights overarching issues and themes that emerged from all three phases of this study, including those facing administrators and agencies working to provide these services to parents, and the implications of these issues for TANF clients and their children.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Children and Youth | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net


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