Inside Social Service Review

Published in the Fall 2010 issue of SSA Magazine

by Richard Mertens

Founded in 1927, Social Service Review is devoted to thought-provoking, original research on social welfare policy, organization and practice. Articles analyze issues from the points of view of various disciplines, theories, and methodological traditions, view critical problems in context, and carefully consider long-range solutions. The Review is edited by SSA's Emily Klein Gidwitz, [the late Professor Michael R. Sosin], and the faculty of SSA.


Fathers Wanted

When a mother has a severe mental illness, children do better when a father is involved

The Children of Women with severe mental illnesses tend to do better or worse in school according to the severity of their mother's illness, according to a recent study published in the march 2010 Social Service Review. However, the research also found that the same children perform better in school and are less likely to engage in risky behavior like smoking or drinking if their fathers are involved in their lives--even if the fathers do not live at home.

"There is no panacea," says Daphna Oyserman, one of the article's authors and a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. "If mothers have mental health problems, it's problematic. Being with the father doesn't take away those problems. But it has a separate, positive effect."

For the research in "Independent effects of Paternal Involvement and maternal mental Illness on Children's outcomes," Oyserman and colleagues studied youths whose mothers suffered from severe mental illnesses. Women with mental illnesses are just as likely as other women to have children. But they are less likely to marry or live with the child's father and more likely to engage in poor parenting practices.

The authors interviewed the 168 youths and their mothers over five years; they also consulted teachers and school records. In contrast to most previous research on the children of mentally ill parents, their study focused on a group that was both ethnically and economically diverse: more than half the families lived below the poverty line, and 58 percent of the youths, whose average age was 15, were African American, 32 percent were white and 8 percent were Hispanic. only one in five said his or her father lived at home most of the year, but three in four said their fathers were involved in their lives.

That fathers matter—even if they don't live at home—has clear implications for social work. Oyserman says social workers might help the children of mentally ill mothers by finding ways to increase an absent father's involvement instead of only trying to get the father to live with the family. "Living there may simply not be feasible," she says. "We may not know what else is going on. It may be better to encourage and structure ongoing contact."

Social workers could also give more support to mothers to improve parenting skills. or they might help the children in school. Such efforts, beyond their own obvious benefits, might also encourage the fathers' involvement. It's possible, for example, that a father would be willing to spend more time with a child who is doing well in school or whose mother is a better parent.

The study also has implications for foster care. The aim of social workers is usually to reunite a foster child with the parent who has custody—typically the mother. But encouraging the father's involvement may also be important. "What this is saying is that things outside the mother can be helpful," says Oyserman, who is currently looking at the influence of religiosity and religious institutions on the same youths.

Paula Allen-Meares, Juliane Blazevski, Deborah Bybee, and Daphna Oyserman. 2010. "Independent effects of paternal Involvement and material mental Illness on child outcomes." Social Service Review 84 (1): 103-27.


Short-Term Work
Does taking a temp job limit a woman leaving welfare?

Since 1996, Welfare Policy has aimed at moving poor mothers off public assistance and into jobs. But what kind of jobs? For example, are temporary jobs an ill-paying dead end, leading to nothing but more temp jobs? or is temp work, as some believe, a stepping stone to something better?

A new study suggests that for most women coming off of welfare, temps jobs are indeed a brief stop on the way to regular employment. most work only a short time at temporary jobs, receive modest training in basic jobs skills, and end up neither better nor much worse off than women who go directly into regular jobs. "the recipients who took these jobs don't say they were dead end jobs," says mary Corcoran, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

In an article published in the June 2010 Social Science Review, "temporary employment and the transition from Welfare to Work," Corcoran and Juan Chen, a professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic university, attempt to answer two questions: what kind of women take jobs through temporary employment agencies? and how do they fare in the long run compared to women who take "direct-hire" jobs?

The researcher followed 483 single mothers from Michigan for six years after welfare reform. Many faced serious obstacles to employment. a fifth reported literacy deficiencies. a quarter said they had the symptoms of major depression. almost half had some physical limitatio

But in these and other ways, including age, skills and education, women who took temporary work looked the same as women who took direct-hire jobs. "What I thought I would find is that temporary workers would have very different characteristics from direct-hire workers, and I thought I would find the reasons why they went into temporary work," Corcoran says. "But I didn't."

Temp work is common. of the women in the study, 39 percent temped at some point in the years between 1997 and 2003, although most who took temporary jobs did so for only a short time. sixty percent temped for 13 weeks or less and only 6.5 percent temped for more than a year. many women said temp jobs helped rather than hurt them. about three in 10 said the temp jobs led to permanent employment. and most said they learned simple job skills, such as workplace conduct, in the temporary jobs.

Still, many questions remain. The study could not determine why women take temporary jobs rather than permanent jobs. Do they have no choice? Does the local welfare office steer them to temp jobs? or do they choose temp jobs because such jobs are more attractive, perhaps offering greater flexibility for child-rearing? the researchers also found that African American women are more likely to take temp jobs than white women—68 percent compared to 48 percent .

"I don't know why it is," Corcoran says. "It certainly suggests to me that they have a hard time finding direct-hire jobs."

Juan Chen and Mary E. Corcoran. 2010. "Temporary employment and the transition from welfare to work." Social Service Review 84 (2): 175-200.


The Benevolent Tradition

"Lady boards" gave women an opportunity to lead charitable organizations nearly two centuries ago

When F. Ellen Netting, Ph.D. '82, and a colleague were looking into the history of old charities in Richmond, Va., an archivist mentioned something that surprised them: many had been run by women.

Netting, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work who studies nonprofit organizations, had been searching for clues as to how charitable organizations—essentially early social service agencies—had built capacity and sustained it over many decades. But she and her colleagues were soon side-tracked into studying a local example of what they characterize as a largely forgotten tradition: women taking a leading role in establishing and governing charities in cities across the east Coast well before the Civil War, long before it was commonly thought women had assumed such responsibilities.

Historians identify three often overlapping traditions among women's organizations in the 19th century: benevolence, reform and rights. the reform tradition dates to the 1830s, when women focused on abolishing slavery, closing brothels and other causes. The rights tradition emerged in the 1840s and '50s. But the oldest of the three traditions dates to the late 1700s as women organized to meet urgent social needs, supporting such institutions as orphanages.

Netting and two Virginia Commonwealth colleagues, Mary Catherine O'Connor and David Fauri, identified 24 still surviving Richmond charities that had been founded before 1900. In an article in the December 2009 Social Service Review, "A Missing Tradition: Women Managing Charitable Organizations in Richmond, Virginia, 1805-1900," They write that most were run by "lady boards of managers" who raised money, made decisions and involved themselves closely in the day-to-day operations.

Usually religiously affiliated, the organizations and their boards created "homeplaces" that fostered the development of a "social service culture." They also gave opportunities for civic participation at a time when women were excluded from much of public life. The organizations had few paid staff members; much of the work was voluntary. Decision-making was often collective and consensual. And the boards typically relied on male trustees or financial advisers behind the scenes—typically a clergyman or doctor who was often a spouse of a board member.

The authors say social work history has largely ignored the lady boards, dismissing their members as "ladies bountiful" and pre professionals who did little to challenge the status quo. Yet these women created "enduring organizations ... before there were books on management, a social work profession or a nonprofit literature," the authors write. "They planted seeds that lasted, but their efforts have been erased from institutional memory ... as professionalism overpowered volunteerism and as the profession came to value broader scale advocacy over the tedium of direct service."

F. Ellen Netting, Mary Katherine O'connor, and David P. Fauri. 2009. "A Missing Tradition: Women managing charitable organizations in Richmond, Virginia, 1805-1900." Social Service Review 83 (4): 557-84.