Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Proposal to Sanction TANF Parents Will Harm Children and Families and Is Unlikely to Improve Children’s School Attendance or Get Unmet Mental Health Needs Addressed

Supervising Attorney

Councilmember David Catania and his staff are developing proposals that would address several important issues, including unmet children’s mental health needs, truancy and disconnection from supportive services.  One of many proposals that Councilmember Catania will consider, as reported in The Washington Post, is sanctioning (or reducing) benefits for District Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients if their children have repeated unexcused absences from school.

Although we share the Councilmember’s underlying concerns and strongly support his efforts to improve the delivery of mental health services to children through schools and other public and private entities, we believe that the TANF sanction proposal will not improve school attendance and will harm some of the very families he is trying to help:

*   Sanctioning TANF families with truant kids does not lead to increased school attendance among TANF recipients’ kids.

*   Sanctioning TANF families with truant kids will merely punish families who are already struggling with significant challenges.

*   The proposed policies will increase the material hardship for sanctioned families which could make it harder for them to support their children’s education.

*   Children suffer when their parents are sanctioned.

*   The District could better engage families and improve school attendance outcomes by improving services for vulnerable families.

Please see the  fact sheet prepared by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Legal Aid and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless describing in more detail why we urge Councilmember Catania not to include this proposal in any package of legislative and other proposals to address the important issues of truancy and children’s mental health.

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