Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Intimate Partner Violence and Child Maltreatment: How TANF Generosity Affects Family Violence Open Access

Spencer, Rachael (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/f7623d73b?locale=en


Background: Family violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV) and child maltreatment is a pervasive public health problem. While all families are at risk, experiencing poverty increases families’ risk of violence. Rooted in historical, structural racism, African American (AA) families are more likely to experience the intersection of poverty and family violence. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a conditional cash transfer program, has the potential to reduce disparities in violence experience. 


Methods: This study uses a mixed methods, triangulation design involving secondary data analysis and semi-structured qualitative interviews. In Chapter 2 and 3, we use Difference-in-Differences (DD) study designs involving the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) dataset across waves 1-5 to understand how TANF policy generosity affects women’s risk of IPV, self-reported child maltreatment, economic pressure, and depression and how race moderates these relationships. For Chapter 4, we use semi-structured interviews to understand how TANF policies influence women’s wellbeing and their interactions with their intimate partners. Data are analyzed using thematic analysis and validated through second-coding and member-checking.


Results: In Chapter 2, less restrictive sanctions and a higher ratio of families receiving TANF for every 100 families in poverty (the TANF-to-Poverty Ratio; TPR) increased coercive IPV, especially among AA women. In Chapter 3, decreases in self-reported child physical abuse were associated with a $100 increase in the maximum cash benefits per month and a one unit increase in the TPR. Increases in child physical abuse scores were associated with imposition of time limits and results were similar for AA and White mothers. In Chapter 4, we identified four primary themes that together suggest that TANF stigma, low cash benefits, and conditions negatively affected women’s economic and psychological wellbeing and created conflict with partners, although to a greater extent for women belonging to stigmatized groups including women of color and IPV survivors.


Conclusions: TANF affects family wellbeing but low cash benefits, stigma, and conditionality associated with TANF undermine the protective effect of TANF. TANF creates structural barriers for those experiencing intersecting challenges to employment and could be designed to better address family violence.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction. 1

Chapter 2: The Impact of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Minimum Wage, and Earned Income Tax Credit on Women’s Well Being and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization. 79

Chapter 3: Association Between Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Maltreatment Among a Cohort of Fragile Families. 120

Chapter 4: Women Experiencing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Implications for Women’s Wellbeing and Intimate Relationships. 151

Chapter 5: Conclusion. 195



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