Supporting Two-Parent Families Key to Welfare Reform Orphanages Would Warehouse Black Children, UB Social-Work Researcher Says Orphanages Would Warehouse Black Children, UB Social-Work Researcher Says

By Mary Beth Spina

Release Date: December 20, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Encouraging and supporting two-parent families and participation in family and community life are key factors in achieving meaningful welfare reform, a University at Buffalo social work researcher and educator says.

A much-talked-about proposal to revive orphanages "would result in the wholesale warehousing of black children," since a higher proportion of African-American children, compared to other groups, are involved in the present foster-care system, says Kathleen Kost, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of social work. "This is not a proposal that fosters responsibility in family formation."

Kost says the welfare-reform plan proposed by congressional Republicans is a rehash of many old ideas, some dating from the early 1800s when assistance was provided to the poor through charities.

"It's not known from where the funds would come to plug 'holes in the safety net' should the number of mandated services for the poor be cut," she points out.

She also notes that it seems as if the Republican proposal is attempting to address issues of morality more than poverty.

For instance, she says, it appears the proposal to deny Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) -- currently an entitlement based on the right of citizenship -- is based on the moral behavior of the mother.

"Bearing a child out of wedlock is not illegal, although it is generally accepted that a woman who is unmarried and has a child before age 19 is more likely to be poor than one who delays child-bearing until she is older and married," says Kost.

Yet, while more than 40 percent of female-headed families have incomes below the poverty level, less than one-third of their incomes comes from social programs, including AFDC, she says.

Furthermore, "contrary to what the Republicans would have us believe, the circumstances for children did not improve during the Reagan and Bush eras," she adds.

The percentage of children under the age of 19 who lived below the poverty level jumped to 20.7 percent in 1990 from 16.4 percent in 1979, says Kost, noting that many states and counties have had to reduce prevention services to children due to the loss of federal funding.

"There is virtually no disagreement on all sides -- including welfare recipients -- that there must be a better system," she says. "But what we need are programs that encourage and support two-parent families, and assist poor men -- not just poor female-household heads -- to participate in the life of their family and community.”