US Professor of Social Work, Jane Waldfogel Speaks on Meeting Children’s Needs When Parents Work

Posted on: 28 November 2007

“Public policies have not kept pace with changes in families. Working parents are being left to fend for themselves in a system where the quality of care is not what it should be”. These were the views of Professor of Social Work, Jane Waldfogel, speaking at the White Annual Lecture organised by the TCD School of Social Work and Social Policy on  Tuesday,  November 27th last.

“Just 30 years ago, the typical child had a stay-at-home mother”, continued Professor Waldfogel. “Today, that situation is reversed: the typical child has a mother who is working, often starting in the first year of life.  Yet, our policies have not kept pace”.

She outlined how significantly family life has changed in Ireland, where 23% of families with children under the age of 15 are now lone parent families.  Moreover, the majority of mothers now work outside the home – 63% of married mothers and 50% of lone mothers. As a result, 60% of children under 15 now have a working mother, with half living with a married working mother and another 10% with a single working mother*. Yet, child care provision and out-of-school provision in Ireland remain uneven.

It’s time we moved on from debating about working mothers”, added Professor Waldfogel. “Most children now have working parents, and they are looking for more help from government in meeting their children’s needs. We know better than ever before what investments make sense. If we truly care about increasing the life chances of the next generation, the time to invest is now.”

Drawing from social science research in her new book What Children Need, Waldfogel outlined what children need at each stage of childhood and adolescence and recommends the following

  • Allow parents more flexibility to take time off work for family responsibilities
  • Ensure continuity of essential family benefits such as health insurance
  • Give mothers and fathers more options to stay home in the first year of life
  • Improve quality of care from infancy through the preschool years
  • Increase access to high-quality out-of-school programmes for school-aged children and teenagers

Jane Waldfogel is Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a research associate at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics.  Waldfogel has written extensively on the impact of public policies on child and family well-being and was a member of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Family and Work Policies.  Her current research includes studies of work-family policies and child and family well-being, inequality in early childhood care and education, and child abuse and neglect.