ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Drexel Study: Safety Net Programs Fail to Address High Rates of Trauma in Participants

New research by the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University shows that participants in a federal assistance program for families living in poverty have overwhelmingly high levels of adversity and exposure to violence that can limit their success in the workplace. In spite of that, employment is a requirement to qualify for many of these programs.

Providing monetary assistance to those living in poverty, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program requires each family’s head of household to work at least 20 hours per week unless they are exempt. But the Center’s study — which looked at Philadelphia families with children under the age of six who are participating in TANF — made it clear that such safety net programs need to take the difficulties of poverty into account.

The research team from Drexel found that an extremely high number of participants witnessed or have been subject to violence, and roughly a third had an adverse childhood experience (such as abuse or neglect). Additionally, nearly half of the fathers of the participants’ youngest child spent time in prison.

“Programs like TANF require participants to overcome overwhelming stress without proper support.  Participants face adversity in their childhoods that cause lifelong mental health challenges and can be barriers to success, ”said Dr. Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health. “By acknowledging exposure to trauma and toxic stress and by building in peer support into TANF, programs like our Building Wealth and Health Network can better prepare families for the workforce and help them to break out of poverty.”

The study, which was published in BMC Public Health, was led by Dr. Chilton and co-authored by Dr. Seth Welles, a professor of Epidemiology in the Dornsife School of Public Health. Dr. Jing Sun, a now-graduated doctoral student in the Dornsife School of Public Health, analyzed the data and was the first author on the paper.

Drexel press release: