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Domestic Violence and Welfare Policy
Research Findings That Can Inform Policies on Marriage and Child Well-Being

Author: Sharmila Lawrence
Publication Date: December 2002

For some time domestic violence has been recognized as an issue with profound implications for our society. Recently, evidence has accumulated to document in particular the effects of domestic violence on poor families. The welfare reform proposals of the mid 1990s drew attention to the problem of domestic violence among individuals receiving public assistance who are among the poorest of the poor.

With the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996—the welfare legislation that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—provisions were included to allow exemptions from work requirements for victims of domestic violence. Considerable research prior to 1996 and subsequently has produced relevant findings about the impact of domestic violence on employment and self-sufficiency. This research has also highlighted factors which complicate identifying and assessing the existence of domestic violence, most often related to the reticence of the victim to discuss the problem for very personal reasons.

Current PRWORA reauthorization efforts have continued and expanded a focus on employment and self-sufficiency, but have also increased a focus on child well-being and marriage. Child well-being and marriage formation are subjects that are intricately related to stable relationships between adults interested in rearing healthy and happy children.

This report examines what is known from past research on domestic violence that may inform policies related to marriage and child well-being. In addition, it highlights areas for future research and strategies that can advance stable marriages and improve the well-being of children who otherwise might suffer the effects of domestic violence.