Monthly Archives: September 2010

Peril at the Polls: Lessons from Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections

by Daniel B. Kobayashi

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) carried the 2008 election by using wireless telecommunications and an elaborate system of poll monitoring to establish an alternative political narrative. Zimbabwe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, whose complacence allowed MDC to establish this narrative, responded by violently rigging the presidential runoff. While Zimbabweans had challenged ZANU-PF’s electoral authoritarian regime largely without external assistance, ZANU-PF’s monopoly on force and willingness to use violence against the population kept President Robert Mugabe in office. One year into a power sharing agreement that saw ZANU-PF retain control of state security organs, new elections are under discussion, and ZANU-PF will likely rig them violently. In order for Zimbabweans’ votes to have any chance to trump ZANU-PF’s guns, the international community—especially the African community—and regional civil society must back free elections through a combination of targeted sanctions, African-led condemnation, and perhaps international criminal charges against the regime.

Introduction: Votes and guns, the inseparable twins
“Our votes must go together with our guns. After all, any vote we shall have, shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins.”- Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 1976[1]

In March 2008, Zimbabwe held presidential and parliamentary elections that tested President Robert Mugabe’s hypothesis that votes are meaningless without guns.[2] The votes in 2008 belonged to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), while the guns belonged to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). An 11-month stalemate resulted. Today, more than a year after a power sharing cabinet took office, the results of the experiment are still inconclusive. On one hand, MDC’s votes changed the nation’s political narrative and gave MDC the political leverage to take the premiership, the Ministry of Finance, and a number of other government ministries; from this perch in the government, MDC ended Zimbabwe’s ruinous hyperinflation. On the other hand, ZANU-PF retains the presidency and a legal monopoly on the use of force, allowing them to maintain control of most of the nation’s wealth and potentially win future power struggles through force of arms.

In his 2003 book Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, Martin Meredith identified strong evidence that guns have historically trumped votes in Zimbabwe.[3] This article will examine the tension between Mugabe’s “inseparable twins” in the 2008 election and the responses of the international community. This piece will then discuss recommendations for action for both Zimbabweans and the international community, as Mugabe calls for new elections in an effort to reassert his dominance.[4]

Dictatorship by another name
Unlike many African countries, Zimbabwe has never officially been a one-party state. Despite ZANU-PF’s dominance, the opposition has always held some seats in parliament, and until 2001, there was a largely independent judiciary.[5] Instead, Zimbabwe was an “electoral authoritarian regime,” wherein the ruling party desires “the veneer of political legitimacy provided by managed elections and the appearance of rule of law.”[6] In every election, there was technically a choice of parties, but the ruling party rigged elections through media manipulation, fraud, or even violence.

“Mugabe has made a specialty of sham legality, lots of useless laws, phony rules that mean nothing,” says Foster Dongozi, Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. “He knows how far to push us. He knows how to distract us with a veneer of normalcy. He knows how to beat us way down, but not so far as to embarrass his African neighbors.”[7]

While opposition parties in electoral authoritarian regimes typically have little hope beyond gaining a few seats in parliament, occasionally a regime can grow overconfident and rig a vote incompetently. Under these circumstances, an election can become competitive. This situation arose in Zimbabwe in 2000, when a ZANU-PF referendum on a new constitution failed 55 percent to 45 percent.[8] The failed referendum indicated a sufficiently competitive electoral system in Zimbabwe for the Journal of Democracy to reclassify Zimbabwe as a “competitive authoritarian” state. Competitive authoritarianism differs from electoral authoritarianism in that there is meaningful parliamentary opposition, even though the ruling party would not allow a transfer of power.[9]

Following the 2000 referendum, ZANU-PF restored the electoral authoritarian model by force. First, they encouraged mobs of “war veterans” to seize white-owned farms and conducted Operation Murambatsvina, a slum-clearing campaign that punished urbanites, who were among the new Constitution’s strongest opponents.[10] Then, ZANU-PF rigged the presidential election in 2002 by arresting opposition figures, closing polling places in MDC strongholds, and detaining international election observers.[11] In 2005, they ended the era of competitive authoritarianism by denying as much as 30 percent of the electorate the right to vote in parliamentary elections.[12]

By 2008, however, Mugabe’s government again began to assume that victory was inevitable. Despite eight years of hyperinflation that had led to an annualized inflation rate of 355,000 percent, bare shop shelves, and looming hunger for many Zimbabweans, ZANU-PF leaders continued to believe in their party’s popularity and treated the upcoming election results as a foregone conclusion.[13]

“ZANU-PF began to be too relaxed about things,” said Ben Moyo, a long-time Mugabe supporter and former Member of Parliament. “We thought the people would vote for us, as they always do.”[14]

Many MDC supporters and outside observers shared this expectation. In December 2007, three months before the election, one Zimbabwean close to the MDC, whose name has been withheld to protect his safety, told me that his party was dead and that the opposition needed to be rebuilt completely from the grassroots. This general complacency, however, created a tiny opportunity.

How sham elections become real elections
An opposition party can turn a sham multi-party election of an electoral authoritarian state into a real vote if it can develop and disseminate an alternative political narrative—if it can prove that the will of the people is not what the ruling party claims. In order to create an alternative narrative, the opposition needs both facts that support its case and a means to communicate its narrative to the people and the outside world.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the facts emerged only because an overconfident ZANU-PF, after arresting and beating MDC presidential nominee Morgan Tsvangirai in March 2007, bowed to regional pressure and consented to talks on ensuring a fair election in 2008. While the talks eventually crumbled, ZANU-PF made one minor, seemingly symbolic concession: polling places would post a tally of local results at the close of the polls.[15]

With this small concession, ZANU-PF opened the door to a competing electoral narrative: that MDC had carried the vote. When polls for the March 29, 2008, preliminary election closed, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a consortium of Zimbabwean civil society organizations, launched an effort to duplicate an election-monitoring strategy called Sample Based Observation[16] that had been effective in the 2007 election in Sierra Leone.[17] A network of 8,900 trained poll watchers tracked the results posted at each of a stratified sample of 435 polling places and used cell phones, common even in rural Zimbabwe, to transmit the data to ZESN headquarters in Harare. With the raw data secured, ZESN discovered that MDC had won a majority of parliament seats and possibly the presidency itself.18 Extrapolating from its sample, ZESN projected 49.4 percent of the vote for Tsvangirai to 41.8 percent for Mugabe. The 95 percent confidence interval for Tsvangirai’s percentage of the vote was 47.0 percent to 51.8 percent. While ZANU-PF has never revealed a true tally, ZESN’s sampling model suggests that there is a credible chance that a full and proper count of the ballots might have given Tsvangirai the 50 percent majority required to claim victory.[19] Before ZANU-PF intimidation could begin, ZESN had already used cell phones to send its projection throughout Zimbabwe and around the world.[20]

This competing narrative stripped ZANU-PF of the ability to tidily rig the election. There are three options for rigging an election: controlling the names on the ballot, forbidding or dissuading citizens from voting, and manipulating the tally. ZANU-PF had already allowed MDC candidates on the ballot, and while it had intimidated voters, the large turnout for MDC suggests that it had not done nearly enough to frighten away the masses angered by Zimbabwe’s economic disaster. Thus, vote counting presented the only remaining opportunity to rig the election, and with ZESN’s projection, that corruption point quickly evaporated.

Faced with the worldwide wireless distribution of ZESN data showing that it did not have public support, and having also lost its best chances to cleanly rig the election, ZANU-PF retreated for just over one month, refusing to release official poll numbers. When the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) finally released the results on May 1, they were almost certainly fraudulent, but were nevertheless extraordinary: MDC had won control of parliament. While ZEC did not award Morgan Tsvangirai the majority needed to claim the presidency, the ZESN analysis appears to have influenced the official tally. ZEC awarded Tsvangirai a plurality of 47.9 percent, a figure at the bottom end of ZESN’s 95 percent confidence interval, forcing a presidential runoff election for the first time in Zimbabwean history.[21] While MDC had not taken the presidency, and the true election tally remains unknown, ZESN’s efforts had forced ZANU-PF to make major concessions. Election monitoring had worked. The votes’ power reached its peak, and then the guns came into play.

How state power can thwart democracy
With a Presidential runoff looming and MDC supporters exuberant, Mugabe faced the prospect of losing power in an electoral revolution. However, ZANU-PF retained a critical weapon: control over the organs of state power and paramilitary organizations, and a willingness to use them to brutalize MDC supporters and influence the elections. State security forces and police repeatedly arrested and beat Tsvangirai and other top MDC officials. ZANU-PF, “war veterans,” and the police murdered 180 MDC supporters and tortured or beat 9,000 others. 28,000 people fled their homes.[22]

Five days before the runoff, ZANU-PF accomplished its objective: Morgan Tsvangirai, who had taken asylum in the Dutch Embassy, announced his withdrawal from the campaign, saying that he could no longer ask Zimbabweans to vote “when that vote could cost them their lives.”[23] Mugabe won the newly uncontested presidential election, yet still faced an MDC majority in parliament and the prospect of a Tsvangirai premiership.

A few African leaders, most notably Patrick Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia and Ian Khama of Botswana, joined Western leaders in condemning the violence, but far more African leaders declined to condemn Mugabe. South African President Thabo Mbeki, asked by the South African Development Community (SADC) to mediate, appeared particularly quiet, ostensibly in the service of diplomacy.

Whatever the moral dimension of his silence, as the SADC mediator and President of the region’s dominant power, Mbeki was critical to negotiating a power sharing agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Negotiators faced formidable questions. Who would wield executive power, the president or the prime minister? More specifically, who would control the state security apparatus? Would MDC get the guns to accompany its votes?

MDC correctly discerned that without possession of at least one of the ministries controlling the use of force, any power it gained would be ephemeral. With the once independent judiciary full of ZANU-PF partisans, and television and radio still under ZANU-PF control, only MDC control of the police or army could create the checks and balances needed for true power sharing.[24] Thus, control over at least some of the levers of force became MDC’s central demand.

Ultimately, Mbeki negotiated a deal, signed on September 15, 2008, that made Mugabe President and Tsvangirai Prime Minister. The deal also gave 15 ministries to ZANU-PF, 13 to Tsvangirai’s faction of MDC, called MDC-T, and three to the dissident MDC-M faction controlled by Arthur Mutambara. Most importantly, while ZANU-PF retained control of the military, MDC would control the Ministry of the Home Affairs, which includes the police.[25]

Despite signing the agreement, Mugabe refused to actually relinquish control of the police. For six months the agreement remained unimplemented, as ZANU-PF insisted that control of Home Affairs should be “shared” by ZANU-PF and MDC. MDC rejected this proposal and appealed to SADC for a resolution ordering the implementation of the signed agreement. Stunningly, SADC sided with ZANU-PF, ruling that there should be shared control of the Ministry of Home Affairs. This decision led MDC to call for the removal of Thabo Mbeki from his role as mediator. In a heavily publicized spat, Tsvangirai called SADC leaders “cowards,” and MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti sent a letter to Mbeki condemning the SADC ruling as a “nullity.” Mbeki responded with a letter to Tsvangirai scolding MDC for its “contempt for the decisions of its immediate African neighbors” and insisting that only shared control of the police could solve issues of violence and intimidation.[26] In February 2009, Tsvangirai swore in a new cabinet when MDC, under pressure from SADC, relented and allowed joint control of the Ministry of Home Affairs.[27]

What now? Advancing democracy after government violence
As of early 2010, the power sharing government remains tenuously in place. Votes have won MDC a seat at the table, but ZANU-PF’s guns have kept Robert Mugabe at its head. While the MDC ministers have enjoyed some major economic successes, most notably ending hyperinflation, MDC remains unlikely to displace Mugabe as long as ZANU-PF controls the state security organs. Even a new election may not improve MDC’s position as long as ZANU-PF retains the ability to undermine the vote with state violence. Indeed, Mugabe’s recent call for a new election suggests that ZANU-PF believes they would have the upper hand in a vote.[28] In an environment where organized violence will likely mar any election, a change of power at the ballot box is unlikely without support from outside actors. The question is whether these actors have the will and the tools to bolster Zimbabwean democracy.

Speaking out: International condemnation of the Mugabe regime
Western criticism can be counterproductive
For years, western governments have spoken out against the ZANU-PF regime. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair have been particularly emphatic in their condemnations, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the “sham election” and “sham power-sharing talks.”[29]

While condemnation appears tactically conservative, most Western criticism of ZANU-PF may be counterproductive. Mugabe uses his victory over colonialism to bolster his legitimacy. Therefore, when Western leaders snub Mugabe, they provide fodder for state propaganda portraying him as the scourge of the colonizers. For instance, one brochure from the runoff asked, “What do the Americans and British want from Zimbabwe? Our Minerals!”[30]

Inversely, MDC’s support from western governments makes it suspect in the eyes of some Zimbabweans. The more vocal Western governments’ support for MDC is, the more plausible appear Mugabe’s claims that MDC is a puppet of the Western world. Elias Mudzuri, MDC’s national organizing secretary, believes the good outweighs the harm. “We are isolated here, fighting for democracy, but we need the West to help us,” said Mudzuri. “I am not ashamed to say this. I am not a puppet of the West.”[31]

A few Western countries have stronger ground from which to criticize ZANU-PF. In particular, the Nordic countries enjoy credibility with Zimbabweans because of their financial support for ZANU-PF during the revolutionary era.[32] Thus, an EU strategy wherein Nordic countries take the lead in criticizing Mugabe might be more effective than a campaign led by Britain.

African criticism resonates with Zimbabweans
Criticism from African leaders holds greater credibility because Mugabe cannot dismiss it as neocolonial. After years of silence, a number of prominent African leaders spoke up when the election turned ugly and the economy deteriorated. Former South African President Nelson Mandela condemned Mugabe’s “tragic failure of leadership,”[33] and retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu accused Mugabe of “gross violations” of human rights and demanded that he step down.[34] Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga was even more forceful, comparing Mugabe to Idi Amin, former dictator of Uganda.[35] These condemnations, made by two Nobel-winning heroes of the struggle against Apartheid and one modernizing prime minister, suggest that African leaders are increasingly agitated with ZANU-PF.

Western criticism, while generally ineffective on its own, can be valuable when linked to these African voices. By joining with credible African partners, Western leaders can make their condemnations clear while limiting the taint of colonialism on their remarks. For example, in April 2008, Gordon Brown issued a joint statement with African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma denouncing Mugabe’s sham reelection.[36] Similarly, when MDC agreed to enter the unity government, the U.S. State Department linked its comments to African criticisms by saying:

“The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has agreed to join a unity government with Robert Mugabe under the conditions called for in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) January 27 Communiqué. The success or failure of such a government will depend on credible and inclusive power sharing by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.”[37]

Human rights organizations call for condemnation and human rights monitors
Leading human rights organizations endorse speaking out, even by Western countries. In Amnesty International’s report “Time for Accountability,” the only recommendation to the international community is that all nations, and particularly those in Africa, should condemn ZANU-PF’s human rights violations.[38] Human Rights Watch (HRW) shares this perspective, but focuses its fire on SADC. HRW argues that SADC must speak out in order to avoid losing credibility on human rights, and should even dispatch human rights monitors to Zimbabwe.[39] Monitors might diminish abuses and would, at the very least, amplify international condemnations of ZANU-PF.

Refusing to admit monitors would provide further evidence to Zimbabweans and their neighbors that ZANU-PF has no intention of holding free elections. Along these lines, ZANU-PF has been pilloried throughout southern Africa for its refusal to admit a delegation of “elders” consisting of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Graça Machel, the widow of late Mozambique President Samora Machel and current wife of Nelson Mandela.

Sanctions: How to punish ZANU-PF without punishing Zimbabweans
Broad sanctions are politically impractical and morally dubious
While broad sanctions are another option, few Zimbabweans at home or abroad support them, as they would further strain the Zimbabwean people by cutting off vital economic supplies. Moreover, little chance remains of getting sanctions through the UN Security Council. China, Russia, and South Africa have repeatedly blocked Security Council efforts to impose sanctions.[40] In fact, Zimbabwe has viewed partnering with China and Russia as an alternative to cooperation with the West, going so far as to launch an initiative called “Look East.”[41]

Targeted sanctions punish ZANU-PF
Targeted sanctions aimed at ZANU-PF leadership are more promising. Individual Western countries have already frozen the assets of Mugabe and other top ZANU-PF leaders and banned the leaders from their territory. Former U.S. Ambassador James McGee expressed support for targeted sanctions, saying:

“Our sanctions really do work. I meet, with some regularity, with one of the top leaders here in Zimbabwe. And he has about $7 million of his funding that’s been frozen because of U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe. And he starts out each and every meeting with the same thing: Where is my money?”[42]

A 2008 expansion of targeted sanctions has increased the pressure on ZANU-PF. In early December 2008, the U.S. Treasury froze the assets of two white Zimbabwean businessmen, a Malaysian urologist, and a Thai businesswoman—all of whom played major roles in financing the Mugabe regime.[43] If businesspeople believe that working with the Mugabe regime may endanger their personal assets held in Western banks, Mugabe may soon find it more difficult to finance his regime.

While one should not overstate the impact of targeted sanctions, the attention ZANU-PF has paid to getting them lifted indicates the sanctions have had an impact. Additionally, sanctions have given MDC leverage. In recent negotiations concerning new elections and the future of the power sharing agreement, ZANU-PF negotiators’ demands have centered on getting MDC to persuade the European Union to lift sanctions on ZANU-PF officials. While it is not clear that MDC has such influence, the sanctions afford Western powers, and perhaps MDC, something tangible they can give ZANU-PF in return for major concessions.[44]

Encirclement: An African solution to ZANU-PF intransigence
A blockade may be effective but illegal
Zimbabwe is landlocked, so economically isolating it would require neither Security Council approval of sanctions nor a SADC endorsement, though both are desirable. Instead, an agreement among the four countries that border Zimbabwe—Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, and Mozambique—could strangle the Mugabe regime. While closing borders to all trade might exert a greater impact on the hungry Zimbabwean population than the elites, closing borders to traffic in arms, luxury items, and non-essential goods could pressure ZANU-PF without further devastating the population. Also, an alliance of the four bordering countries could effectively forbid ZANU-PF officials from leaving the country, forcing them to live to a greater extent with the economic consequences of their policies. Archbishop Tutu has endorsed elements of this plan by urging the four neighbors to impose a flight ban.[45]

This approach faces two obstacles. First, a blockade of this sort may violate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which guarantees landlocked countries access to the sea and to which all four bordering countries have agreed.[46] Second, at least one of Zimbabwe’s neighbors may refuse to close the borders. While Botswana, whom Zimbabwe has accused of harboring MDC military training camps,[47] and Zambia may support a blockade, South Africa and Mozambique likely will hesitate. Any effective action must have South African support because 65 percent of Zimbabwe’s imports flow through the Beitbridge crossing with South Africa.[48] New South African President Jacob Zuma is far less sympathetic to Mugabe than Thabo Mbeki, saying, “We cannot agree with ZANU-PF. We cannot agree with them on values.”[49] However, Zuma is still unlikely to support a blockade, having recently urged Tsvangirai to make concessions in power sharing while relaxing pressure on Mugabe.[50]

South African labor can close the border
The powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which supports fellow trade unionist Tsvangirai, has contemplated forcibly closing the Beitbridge border for some time.[51] While COSATU could not implement a flight ban and probably could not enforce a blockade that allows food but blocks nonessential items, it could close the border without approval from the South African government. It is unclear, however, whether COSATU would be willing to alienate Zuma, a trade unionist and long-time ally, or inflict the pain of a blockade on average Zimbabweans.

Mozambique’s porous border remains a challenge
Mozambique provides the greatest obstacle to an effective encirclement policy. Zimbabwe’s 1,231 kilometer border with Mozambique is its longest, and Mozambique’s governing Frelimo party is a longtime ZANU-PF ally. However, Mozambique has taken modest measures against Zimbabwe in the past. In July 2008, Mozambique put strict controls on exports of foodstuffs and goods to Zimbabwe;[52] and as choleric refugees flooded over the border following the runoff election, Mozambique placed all border stations on maximum alert.[53] While Mozambique would not consider a blockade now that the cholera epidemic has ended and political violence in Zimbabwe has eased, its actions in 2008 suggest that, in the event of a renewed crisis, a blockade is a possibility. However, regardless of will, Mozambique’s capacity to seal its vast border with Zimbabwe is unclear.

Trade union solidarity: Laboring for MDC
In addition to the threatened blockade of Beitbridge, the African labor movement led the regional civil society response to the Zimbabwean crisis. During the runoff, longshoremen in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola refused to offload weapons from a Chinese ship destined for Zimbabwe. While some African leaders may have hesitated to challenge a fellow head of state and hero of the fight against colonialism, however tarnished, African workers appear to have no such qualms. The efforts of trade unionists in the SADC region have emboldened Zimbabwe’s own labor movement. Even as Tsvangirai, the former labor leader, struggled to get the regime to make concessions, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) won the first major civil society concession from the government. On November 27, 2008, ZCTU called for mass action in protest of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s limit on cash withdrawals to Z$500,000 (about one-half the cost of a loaf of bread). In an unprecedented move, bank Governor Gideon Gono bowed to pressure and raised the caps.[54]

Trade unions from across Africa have held meetings to address the Zimbabwean crisis and coordinate strategy. Because labor has had the greatest success in organizing against ZANU-PF both inside and outside of Zimbabwe, President Obama should consider showing support by sending a U.S. delegation that includes prominent American labor officials to the next African meeting on the subject. One possible member of such a delegation would be AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who has already sent a letter to Mugabe protesting his abuse of labor.[55]

War crimes indictments: Criminalizing oppression
Another tactic suggested by Archbishop Tutu is threatening Mugabe and other ZANU-PF officials with war crimes indictments if they refuse to step aside. An indictment could further restrict Mugabe’s movement and might lead other African leaders to distance themselves from him. Recent experience provides mixed evidence on this approach. When the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, the African Union condemned the move and refused to extradite al-Bashir or restrict his movement. However, some African countries have broken with this policy and vowed to arrest al-Bashir if given the chance. For example, al-Bashir cancelled a planned trip to Uganda after Uganda Internal Affairs Minister Henry Oryem Okello stated that he would “ensure that he [Bashir] is arrested.”[56]

While indicting Mugabe is tempting, it is also risky. The threat of an indictment may be useful, but an actual indictment might increase the resolve of Mugabe and his allies to cling to power. Although ZANU-PF could conceivably win amnesty from an MDC government as part of a deal to concede power, they could never win amnesty from the International Criminal Court. Moreover, little precedent exists for a sitting president to surrender willingly to an international tribunal. While Charles Taylor of Liberia left power upon indictment for war crimes, he only fled once his position became militarily untenable. Al-Bashir, who faces no imminent military threat, remains securely in power. Perhaps the only example of a head of state or government willingly turning himself over to an international tribunal is former Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj; he voluntarily left his post to face war crimes charges, of which he was later acquitted.[57] However, Haradinaj is an unusual case, because his territory was under UN Administration when he surrendered.

Conclusion: Without guns, votes need external backing
Today, the Zimbabwean crisis has waned and settled onto an uneasy plateau: hyperinflation has ended and political violence has slowed. However, another crisis appears inevitable, though not imminent: the 86-year-old Mugabe will eventually bow to time, if he does not first fall to votes or guns. The events of 2008 offer valuable lessons as to how Zimbabweans, as well as the Southern African and international communities, can increase the likelihood that the next crisis is less traumatic and the outcomes more promising.

First, while democratic movements cannot peacefully overthrow a regime committed to retaining power, willing to use force, and indifferent to the fate of the people, they can force a regime to a decision point by creating and disseminating an alternative political narrative. By gathering and communicating real election numbers, ZESN revealed the will of the people and forced ZANU-PF leaders to decide whether they were willing to use large-scale force against their own people to retain power. Even when ZANU-PF used massive violence, it could not eliminate the alternative political narrative. Thanks to ZESN and its text messages and phone calls, Zimbabweans know how they voted. Despite maintaining control of the police and military, ZANU-PF suffered from a crisis of legitimacy that forced it to make concessions to MDC. When the next election comes, perhaps the 86-year-old Mugabe will have died, and the will of the people as revealed by a vote could bring an even marginally more empathetic regime to heel. Either way, polling station monitoring is essential for establishing an alternative narrative.

Second, when vetoes hamper the Security Council, regional organizations and individual nations can take actions to shape political outcomes in neighboring countries. A unified effort by SADC, or even just the four nations that border Zimbabwe, would pressure the Mugabe regime and potentially force ZANU-PF officials to live with the consequences of their policies. ZANU-PF officials may be more willing to allow truly free and fair elections and accept their outcomes if faced with a choice between being trapped in a country-sized prison or yielding power.

Third, governments and NGOs are not the only actors in international affairs; regional civil society organizations, and even domestic organizations in neighboring countries, can influence a country’s internal affairs. COSATU has the ability, independent of the government of South Africa, to blockade the Beitbridge crossing and inflict a severe economic wound on the Mugabe regime.

Finally, while the West cannot always wield much direct influence on events in distant parts of the world, it can support regional efforts to solve crises by lending technical advice or support to civil society organizations, coordinating statements with regional leaders, and carefully selecting its spokesmen.

As both the Zimbabwean opposition and the international community prepare for the as yet unscheduled upcoming election, they would do well to listen to the words of Robert Mugabe himself. Reaffirming his 1976 comments following the first round of the 2008 elections, Mugabe said, “We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?”[58] Perhaps the pen alone is not mightier than the sword. But when informed Zimbabwean voters wield that pen with the support of southern African civil society, targeted international sanctions, an observant international criminal court, and compassionate neighboring nations, the battle between votes and guns may at least become a fair fight.

[1] Martin Meredith, Our Votes, our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe. (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Mugabe says Zimbabwe Power sharing has ‘short life;” signals new elections,” CNN News, December 12, 2009. (accessed February 18, 2010).
[5] Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure, “Zimbabwe’s Long Agony,” Journal of Democracy 19:4 (2008): 41-55.
[6] Ibid., 52.
[7] Paul Salopek, “Absence of Street Fury in Zimbabwe Puzzles Analysts,” Chicago Tribune, May 1, 2008.
[8] “Mugabe loses Zimbabwe referendum,” CBC News, November 11, 2000, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[9] Larry Diamond. “Thinking about Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy 13:2 (2002): 32.
[10] Michael Bratton and Eldred Masunungure, “Popular Reactions to State Repression: Operation Murabatsvina in Zimbabwe,” Afrobarometer Working Paper no. 59, April 2006, (accessed March 21, 2010).
[11] “Election halted in Zimbabwe,” BBC News, March 11, 2002, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[12] “Straw condemns Zimbabwe elections,” BBC News, April 5, 2005, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[13] “Inflation hits 355,000 percent,” Zimbabwe Independent, May 15, 2008, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[14] Jon Lee Anderson, “The Destroyer,” New Yorker, October 27, 2008.
[15] Sarah Childress, “People Power: In Africa, Democracy Gains Amid Turmoil,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2008.
[16] Zimbabwe Election Support Network, “ZESN poll projections on March 29 presidential elections,” March 31, 2008, 080331zesn.asp?sector=CACT&year=0&range_start=181 (accessed December 8, 2008).
[17] Sarah Childress, “People Power.”
[18] Zimbabwe Election Support Network, “ZESN poll projections on March 29 presidential elections.”
[19] Zimbabwe Election Support Network, “ZESN poll projections on March 29 presidential elections.”
[20] Sarah Childress, “People Power.”
[21] Sarah Childress, “People Power.”
[22] Amnesty International, International Secretariat. Zimbabwe: Time for Accountability, (2008).
[23] “An Election with Only One Candidate; Zimbabwe,” The Economist, June 28, 2008.
[24] Human Rights Watch, “A Call to Action: The Crisis in Zimbabwe,” 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[25] “Zimbabwe Deal: Key points,” BBC News, September 15, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[26] “Mbeki and MDC’s Explosive Exchange,” The Star, November 2, 2008,
9532 (accessed December 8, 2008).
[27] “Zimbabwe cabinet sworn in,” Al-Jazeera, February 13, 2008, http://english.aljazeera. net/news/africa/2009/02/2009213151548944420.html (accessed February 18, 2010).
[28] “Mugabe says Zimbabwe Power sharing has ‘short life’.” CNN News
[29] Sonja Pace, “US says well past time for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe to step down,” Voice of America News, December 6, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[30] ZANU-PF Campaign Pamphlet, “100 Reasons to Vote for Cme. Robert Mugabe,” (2008).
[31] Jon Lee Anderson, “The Destroyer.”
[32] International Crisis Group, “Negotiating Zimbabwe’s Transition, Africa Briefing No. 51,” May 21, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[33] “Mandela condemns Mugabe ‘failure,’” BBC News, June 25, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[34] “Go Mugabe or face arrest – Tutu,” BBC News, December 5, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[35] Foster Dongozi, “Kenyan Premier Pessimistic about Outcome of Zimbabwe’s Power-Sharing Talks,” The Standard, November 30, 2008.
[36] “Brown, Zuma unite on Zimbabwe,” The Age, April 24, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[37] Robert Wood, “Statement on the Zimbabwe unity government,” February 3, 2009, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[38] Amnesty International, International Secretariat.
[39] Human Rights Watch Press Release, “SADC: Take Action to End Zimbabwe Rights Crisis,” August 13, 2007, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[40] Paul Salopek, “Absence of Street Fury in Zimbabwe Puzzles Analysts.”
[41] Bayano Valy, “Zimbabwe: ‘Look East’ Policy Pays Dividends – President,” The Herald, March 27, 2008, (accessed November 2, 2008).
[42] James D. McGee, Special Briefing on Zimbabwe’s Current State, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[43] “US Treasury Freezes Assets of Four Mugabe Insiders,” Associated Press, November 25, 2008, (accessed March 20, 2010).
[44] “Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai’s MDC says unity talks deadlocked, looks to region,” VOA News, January 22, 2010,
[45] “World has Right to Intervene in Zimbabwe – Tutu,” Reuters, November 27, 2008.
[46] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Montego Bay, Jamaica, 1982.
[47] Godfrey Ganetsang, “Botswana-Zimbabwe relations worsen,” Sunday Standard, February 15, 2010, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[48] Margaret Coker, “Powerful South African Labor Group Ponders how Hard to Press Mugabe,” The Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2008.
[49] Miles Larmer, “The Zimbabwe Arms Shipment Campaign,” Review of African Political Economy 35:177 (2008): 491.
[50] “Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai’s MDC says unity talks deadlocked,” VOA News.
[51] “Cosatu threatens Zimbabwe border blockade,” New Zimbabwe, December 12, 2009. (accessed March 20, 2010).
[52] “Mozambique tightens screws on Zimbabwe,” The Zimbabwe Times, July 23, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[53] “Zimbabwe: U.S. says ‘well past time for Mugabe to leave,’” Die Welt Online, December 5, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[54] “Breakthrough as ZCTU, RBZ agree,” Zim Diaspora, 2008, http://www.zimdiaspora. com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=350:breakthrough-as-zctu-rbz-agree&catid=67:art&Itemid=289 (accessed December 8, 2008).
[55] James Parks, “Zimbabwe Continues Arrests, Assaults Against Union Members,” AFL-CIO Now Blog, December 5, 2008, (accessed December 8, 2008).
[56] Godfrey Olukya, “Uganda willing to arrest al-Bashir for war crimes.” Associated Press, July 13, 2009, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[57] David Charter, “Kosovo guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj is set free,” The Times Online, April 4, 2008, (accessed February 18, 2010).
[58] “Mugabe ‘I Will Not Give Up Power,’” The Herald, June 16, 2008.

Daniel B. Kobayashi is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Policy from Boston University in 1998. Kobayashi has also served as Director of the Workforce Solutions Group, an economic development non-profit. He currently serves as a consultant on economic development in Africa.


From Welfare-to-Work to Child Well Being

by Kristy Marynak

This article examines child-only cases within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which currently comprise 47 percent of the overall TANF caseload. Child-only cases exclude adults from the benefit calculation, providing aid only to children, and exempt adults from work requirements and time limits. This article reviews the narrow literature on child-only TANF populations, distinguishing between “non-parental” cases involving relative caregivers and “parental” cases involving parents who are ineligible for benefits because of sanctions, alien status, or SSI receipt. The article then discusses the inadequate communication and collaboration between TANF agencies and the child welfare system; describes unproven, though innovative, state efforts to assist child-only populations; and concludes with the recommendation that Congress should expand the 2011 President’s Budget request to include competitive grants for programs that address the child-only population’s needs and sponsor third-party studies to test the programs’ impacts on child outcomes.

The years of debate that preceded the 1996 welfare reforms hinged on a concern for poor children. The ironic result of those child-centered debates, however, was a welfare-to-work program focused on adult outcomes such as employment and welfare dependency.[1] Fourteen years after Congress created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), we still know little about how the program impacts child wellbeing. Considering that child-only cases—wherein only children receive a TANF cash benefit and adults are excluded from the calculation—now constitute almost half of the overall TANF caseload, it is time to find out how these children are doing and how best we can address their needs.

This article begins with an overview of the politics and empirical research behind welfare reform. It then explains the various origins of child-only cases, summarizes what researchers know about child wellbeing in these cases, and outlines the relationship between TANF and the child welfare system. The article concludes with a discussion of low-cost, politically feasible policy options to build a knowledge base about evidence-based intervention models that could be expanded when the economy improves.

Welfare Reform: Introducing the debate
The contentious welfare reform debates of the mid-1990s led Congress to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with TANF. The old AFDC program became unsustainable for a number of political and evidence-based reasons. First, influential liberal researchers, such as David Ellwood, found that welfare reduced work incentives, that welfare dependency was rising, and that AFDC recipients were able to work or worked covertly.[2] Second, conservatives successfully swayed public opinion so that the majority of Americans believed welfare was a source of, not a solution to, poverty. Two of the most influential conservative arguments held that welfare was an affront to human dignity and contributed to the rise in single-female headed households.[3],[4] Third, a series of federally funded, independently conducted studies demonstrated that an education-first approach to encouraging work among the poor was more expensive, but less effective, than programs requiring immediate job search.[5] Finally, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, states experimented with AFDC waiver programs which imposed a number of conditions of welfare receipt, including work requirements and time limits. These waiver programs increased states’ demand for autonomy in welfare program development and administration. Waivers also demonstrated the political feasibility of reform. For example, Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson boosted his popularity by piloting the time-limited, work-based Wisconsin Works program in 1987, which demonstrated success increasing work and reducing welfare receipt.[6] Responding to these factors, President Clinton—and a Republican-dominated Congress—pledged to “end welfare as we know it.”

As the 1996 welfare law’s name suggests, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) ushered in a work-oriented approach to public assistance. Individuals were no longer automatically entitled to cash aid; instead, states received broad powers to create their own welfare programs. States have the authority to set eligibility requirements and benefit levels, but all TANF programs must impose work requirements and a 60-month lifetime limit on cash assistance.

Although participants in the welfare reform debates predicted mild reductions in caseloads, no one anticipated that the caseloads would drop so sharply.[7] Between 1996 and 2000, caseloads reduced by half, shrinking from 4.6 million families in 1996 to 2.1 million families in 2002.[8]

The composition of the caseload also changed radically; whereas in 1994, more than 80 percent of families on welfare included at least one parent recipient, by 2008 nearly half of all TANF cases were “child-only.”[9] (See Figure 1.) In child-only cases, adults are excluded from the benefit calculation and only children receive aid, which is not subject to work requirements or time limits. While child-only cases are not growing in absolute numbers, they merit heightened attention from researchers and policymakers because they continue to grow as a proportion of all TANF cases.[10] Indeed, an enduring irony of welfare reform is that the primary beneficiaries of a program focused on personal responsibility and work opportunity are no longer parents caring for children, but children themselves.

Variations between states complicate task of describing child-only caseloads
Although both federal and state policy makers are aware of the relative increase in child-only cases, they lack definitive information about child-only cases at the national level because state TANF rules, services, and benefits vary widely.[11] Indeed, the differences between states in terms of demographics and welfare policies necessitate state-level data collection and analysis. Variations in child-only caseloads as a proportion of total TANF caseloads illustrate this point. In 2001, child-only cases constituted at least 45 percent of the TANF caseload in 15 states.[12] In four states, however, fewer than 20 percent of TANF cases were child-only.[13]

Parental child-only cases involve disabled, immigrant, or sanctioned parents
There are two types of child-only TANF cases, “parental” and “non-parental.” Parental child-only cases involve children whose parents are ineligible for TANF for three primary reasons. First, the parent may receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).[14] SSI provides cash assistance to disabled, blind, or elderly individuals who earn little or no income, without imposing work requirements or time limits.[15] Second, the parent may be an illegal immigrant or legal alien with a native-born child. Third, the state may sanction a parent for failure to comply with TANF program rules such as work requirements, or discontinue the benefits for parents who reach the 60-month lifetime limit on assistance. It is important to note that not all states permit children whose parents are sanctioned or reach time limits to continue receiving benefits. As of 2002, 36 states employed full-family sanctions.[16]

In 2006, half of all child-only cases were parental. Of those, 41 percent had a parent receiving SSI, 38 percent had a parent with unknown citizenship status, and 11 percent had a sanctioned parent.[17] Again, however, significant variation exists between states. For example, 69 percent of California’s child-only cases are parental, the majority of which involve immigrant parents.[18] New York and Texas also have substantial immigration-related child-only cases. In contrast, over 98 percent of Mississippi’s parental child-only caseload in 2000-2001—a total of 5,117 families—involved parents who received SSI. Parental cases involving SSI parents are similarly predominant in Kentucky (91.5 percent), Massachusetts (82.3 percent), Virginia (86.5 percent), and Wisconsin (93.7 percent).[19]

Non-parental child-only cases involve relative caregivers
Non-parental child-only cases involve children who reside with a relative or other adult with legal guardianship or custody.[20] Approximately half of the nation’s child-only caseload falls into the non-parental category, but state variation remains considerable.[21] These non-parent caregivers either choose not to receive TANF assistance, or their income or assets exceed eligibility requirements.[22] Importantly, some kinship caregivers are included in the benefit calculation, but their cases do not fall into the child-only category.[23]

The Department of Health and Human Services does not publish national data about the origins of, nor the outcomes generated by, non-parental caregiver arrangements. However, a limited amount of state-level data provides clues. Edelhoch, Liu, and Martin survey relative caretakers in South Carolina child-only cases, and Wood and Strong investigate child-only TANF cases in New Jersey.[24],[25]

In South Carolina, non-parental cases compose 34 percent of the child-only caseload. Edelhoch et al. find that 80 percent of these caretakers are African American, and 62 percent are over the age of 50.[26] When asked to disclose the primary reason for non-relative placement, caregivers cite parental substance abuse (28 percent), parental desertion (20 percent), child maltreatment (16 percent), and parental incarceration (13 percent). Less common reasons include parent death, institutionalization, military service, minor status, and schooling. South Carolina administrative records reveal that some causes of relative placement overlap. For example, the authors find that at least 35 percent of relatives care for children who were previously involved with child protective services, such as foster care.

Reasons for relative caregiver placement in New Jersey resemble those in South Carolina. Parental substance abuse accounts for the formation of approximately 60 percent of non-parental child-only cases.[27] Other causes include parental incarceration, child abuse or neglect, and mental health problems.

Parental child-only children face fewer emotional needs, but greater material needs, than non-parental counterparts
From the limited research available on child wellbeing in child-only TANF cases, we can infer that children in parental child-only cases experience greater poverty, but have fewer behavioral and emotional needs, than children in non-parental cases.[28]

The New Jersey study provides useful insight with respect to SSI and immigrant child-only households. SSI recipients who head child-only TANF households have poor health and/or disabilities.[29] These households also have higher rates of food insecurity than “regular” TANF families, perhaps because parents with disabilities have difficulty shopping for and preparing food.[30] Immigrant parents who head child-only TANF households have low educational attainment and little recent work history.[31] Half of immigrant child-only families in New Jersey live in deep poverty, meaning that annual income for a family of four is below $10,000.[32]

Although we know little about children’s wellbeing in TANF families who are sanctioned or reach time limits, the news about their parents’ wellbeing is not encouraging. Sanctioned TANF families experience serious barriers to employment, including substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, health difficulties, limited cognitive ability, and difficulty finding child care.[33] A U.S. Government Accountability Office study also found that sanctioned parents may have more difficulty understanding program rules and sanction policies.[34] Sanctioned families also experience greater involvement with the child welfare system, with higher rates of child placement in state custody.[35] Families who reach TANF time limits tend to experience difficulties similar to those facing sanctioned parents; 92 percent of families who reach or are likely to reach time limits have one or more “substantial barriers,” including child welfare system involvement, a disability or poor health, and criminal justice system involvement.[36]

Unanswered questions about parental child-only families persist. First, how do children who continue to receive TANF payments after parents are sanctioned or reach time limits fare relative to children in states that employ full-family sanctions and time limits? Second, how are child-only TANF payments used to meet children’s needs? For example, do families share child-only payments among all household members, regardless of whether members are included in the benefit calculation? Particularly in parental child-only cases, where poverty appears to be deeper and material needs greater, a reasonable assumption is that heads of household, not children, decide how to use TANF cash assistance.

Non-parental child-only households generally receive more income and deal with fewer material hardships than other TANF households.[37],[38] This may be because TANF agencies often disregard caregiver income in child-only cases when calculating benefits. Unfortunately, trauma often precedes a child’s placement with relatives, which creates additional service needs for both children and caregivers.[39] Gibbs et al. find that TANF does not provide for these additional service needs, which include assessment, case management, and collaboration between TANF caseworkers and child welfare agencies.[40] Despite these unmet needs, Gibbs et al. assert that relative care is usually a more desirable option for these children than staying with parents or being placed in non-relative foster care.[41]

The South Carolina study also provides useful insight about what kinds of services non-parental TANF households demand—a subject which should interest policymakers. In a series of interviews, Edelhoch et al. ask relative caregivers in South Carolina which services they would like to receive.[42] Respondents consistently request higher TANF and food stamp benefits; Medicaid coverage for adults in the household; mental health services for children in their care; child care, including after-school and respite care; and financial help with school expenses.[43]

Child welfare and TANF systems inadequately communicate and collaborate
Given that children in non-parental child-only cases have greater service needs, we should ask what kinds of services are currently available to these children. In order to answer this question, we first must understand the variety of non-relative caregiver arrangements that exist. Relative caregiver arrangements vary along a spectrum.[44] “Private kinship care” is generally an informal or temporary arrangement; the relative caregiver may contact the TANF agency but has no contact with child welfare services.[45] When parents independently place their children with a relative, but the family receives some child welfare services, the arrangement is called “voluntary kinship care.”[46] In “kinship foster care” (also called “formal kinship care”), the state maintains custody of the child, and relatives receive TANF child-only assistance or formal foster care payments.

Ehrle, Geen, and Clark estimate that 72 percent of all children in relative care (1.3 million children) receive private kinship care; 17 percent (300,000 children) receive voluntary kinship care; and 11 percent (200,000 children) receive kinship foster care.[47] Thus, the vast majority of relative caregiver arrangements avert child welfare involvement altogether. As a result, children and relative caregivers do not receive needed—and available—services. Gibbs et al. observe that for a variety of reasons, including the stigma of child welfare involvement and a lack of knowledge about available services, relative caregivers “forfeit access to a range of resources, including additional financial support, child-focused assessments and services, case management, and permanency planning.”[48] Instead, caregivers seek assistance from TANF agencies, which are not oriented towards child wellbeing and instead focus on adult employment and economic self-sufficiency.[49] TANF workers typically do not offer assessments for children, and their high caseloads and lack of training in children’s issues generate missed opportunities for service provision.

A lack of communication and collaboration between child welfare and TANF agencies further complicates the situation for children, families, and caseworkers. Respondents in studies of non-parental child-only case management in Washington, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Maryland reported little collaboration between child welfare and TANF agencies.[50] In interviews with Administration for Children and Families (ACF) regional administrators, Gibbs et al. found that only eight state TANF agencies formally collaborate with the child welfare system, 36 informally collaborate, and seven collaborate neither formally nor informally.[51] The report does not define informal or formal collaboration.

Rob Geen finds that, compared to traditional non-relative foster parents, kinship foster parents tend to receive less information, training, and contact from child welfare workers.[52] Indeed, says Geen, “kinship caregivers are often required to provide the same nurturance and support for children in their care that non-kin foster parents provide, with fewer resources, greater stressors, and limited preparation.”[53]

State programs assist relative caregivers, but efforts are unproven and may neglect children in parental child-only cases
Some states are addressing the needs of non-parental child-only households through case management, increased financial support, and referrals and support programs. Gibbs et al. find that state programs generally focus on the needs of relative caregivers rather than children.[54] However, several child welfare agencies view children in non-parental child-only TANF cases as at-risk and offer case management and services designed to keep them from needing to be placed in the state’s custody.[55]

Innovative, though unproven, initiatives to better serve non-parental child-only households exist across the U.S. Efforts generally focus on three areas: (1) enhancing collaboration between TANF and child welfare agencies; (2) providing financial support to relative caregivers; and (3) providing information and case management to relative caregivers.

Several localities support collaboration between child welfare and TANF agencies.
• In most Wisconsin counties, the child welfare agency manages non-parental child-only TANF cases.[56]
Oklahoma’s child welfare and TANF programs share a common director. For child-only cases in formal kinship care, Oklahoma child welfare workers oversee child safety and services, while TANF caseworkers are responsible for financial and medical assistance.[57]
El Paso County, Colorado, created the Family Support Team (FST), a special unit within its TANF agency to serve child-only cases. The FST includes professional social workers, TANF case managers, and a supervisor.[58]

At least ten states or localities provide additional financial support for relative caregivers.
California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Denver, Colorado, provide monthly financial support to relative caregivers in non-parental child-only cases.[59] The states provide cash assistance similar to, but generally less than, the payments that traditional foster parents would receive. Most states use TANF funds for these payments, and some states (Kentucky and Nevada) make payments regardless of caregiver income.
Alabama’s Kinship Care (KC) program targets non-parental child-only cases experiencing difficulties that put them at risk for non-relative foster care placement.[60] KC provides tailored services, including counseling; respite care; financial assistance for court costs and emergency expenses; and a “basic needs payment” for educational supplies, children’s clothing, and furniture.
• To those deemed income-eligible, New Jersey offers a child care subsidy and up to $1,000 to purchase school supplies or baby furniture.[61]

Several states or localities provide information, referrals, and support groups for relative caregivers.
New Jersey created a Kinship Navigator Program to help caregivers obtain services including TANF, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, and child care.[62] The state also maintains a toll-free phone service staffed by social workers who provide as much case management as possible by telephone.[63]
Ohio’s Statewide Kinship Caregiver Services Program offers subsidized child care, respite care, legal assistance, parenting classes, and a toll-free phone service offering referrals and information to relative caregivers.[64]
El Paso County, Colorado, provides support groups and “grandparent advocates” to assist caregivers as they navigate bureaucratic agencies.[65]

Although individual state efforts are encouraging, no states have rigorously evaluated the effects of these interventions on child outcomes.[66] However, it is possible to comment on the implementation issues facing these programs’ administrators. Charlesworth et al. list the challenges that states and localities face when trying to develop strategies to assist their child-only caseload.[67] First, states struggle to afford additional financial support for relative caregivers. Second, states face difficulties developing culturally appropriate policies and supportive services for parental child-only cases, especially alien and SSI cases. Third, they struggle to bridge communication and logistical gaps between relevant agencies and partner organizations.

Policy recommendations
Congress must reauthorize TANF by September 30, 2010. Considering that the primary beneficiaries of TANF are now children, it is time to focus federal resources on evaluating child outcomes and identifying effective strategies to serve poor children in both parental and non-parental child-only cases. The current recession and deficit-averse political environment necessitates budget-neutral or low-cost policies. As such, the following strategies are low-cost and politically feasible. Properly implemented, these strategies will establish a firm foundation of knowledge about “what works” to inform Congress when the economy improves and TANF is again reauthorized.

Recommendation 1: Expand the 2011 President’s Budget request to include competitive grants for programs that address children’s needs in parental and non-parental child-only cases
The President’s FY2011 budget requests that Congress eliminate the $500 million Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Grants and instead direct the money to state-initiated Responsible Fatherhood and Family Self-sufficiency Demonstrations. The President requests $475.74 million for the grants and $20 million to evaluate grantees. The idea behind the grant programs is to “build a stronger evidence base about what service intervention models work … that could be replicated within the TANF, Child Support Enforcement (CSE), and other state and community-based programs.”[68]

While the idea behind the fatherhood and self-sufficiency demonstrations may be sound, the President’s budget request fails to mention child-only TANF populations, which now constitute almost half of the total TANF caseload. During budget appropriations, Congress should expand demonstrations to support and evaluate the following initiatives: (1) child welfare and TANF agency collaboration; (2) enhanced financial assistance for relative caregivers; (3) case management and referral services for children and relatives in non-parental cases; and (4) assessments, case management, and other services for children in parental cases.

Congress should fully fund the President’s $500 million demonstration request, but also add $250 million to support child-only service model demonstrations, $20 million of which should fund rigorous evaluations of programs. See Recommendation 2 for a discussion of the evaluations.

Bipartisan political support exists for investment in child-only TANF cases. During the July 2009 confirmation hearing for ACF Assistant Secretary for Family Support Carmen Nazario, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) voiced his concern about the rise in child-only TANF cases. Specifically, Grassley asked whether children’s interests would be better served by a formal arrangement with the child welfare system.[69] As such, grants that support child welfare and TANF agency collaboration and case management for children could enjoy political support during budget appropriations. Leading up to the budget appropriations process, advocacy groups should target Senator Grassley and House Appropriations committee chair David Obey (D-WI) to request a $250 million expansion of the President’s request.

Recommendation 2: Conduct a series of third-party studies to test impacts of interventions on child outcomes
To address acute information gaps, Congress should fund third-party evaluations of interventions to serve parental and non-parental child-only populations. The studies should focus on dependent variables germane to quantitative evaluations of program impacts on child wellbeing, including “academic progress, cognitive development, behavioral and emotional adjustment, and health and safety.”[70] The studies should not only test child-only intervention models, but also investigate the effectiveness of traditional child-only TANF cash assistance.

Parental child-only study
One study should examine the wellbeing of children whose parents are ineligible for TANF because of sanctions, time limits, alien status, or SSI enrollment. The study should observe two treatment groups: one that receives child-only payments with no enhanced services such as case management, and a second that receives child-only payments with case management. The control group would receive no TANF assistance. Both studies should seek to understand how TANF cash assistance is spent and shared between household members, how that cash assistance impacts child wellbeing, and whether enhanced services improve outcomes. In order to avoid ethical questions that would arise when assigning children to different levels of service, this study could take advantage of the existing variation between states. Controlling for differences between groups and employing state fixed effects will account for any variation in outcomes due to geographic differences.

Non-parental child-only study
Another study should focus on children in relative care, using multiple treatment groups to test the impacts of the various strategies that states currently use to serve children and caregivers in non-parental cases. These treatment groups should include: (1) a group that receives basic child-only cash assistance; (2) a group that receives enhanced payments with no case management; (3) a group that receives a combination of payments and case management by a child welfare agency; and (4) a group that receives a combination of payments and case management by the TANF agency. The control group should include children in relative care who receive no TANF cash assistance or other services.

The studies should each be implemented over multiple years, beginning with baseline data collection and two follow-up assessments. Third-party researchers should be required to report on findings at baseline and at each follow-up and write a final report to ACF and Congress before TANF is reauthorized, presumably by 2015.

Social policy experts and advocates would greet these evaluations with enthusiasm. Influential advocates at the Brookings Institution, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Center for Law and Social Policy regularly request that TANF focus more on child outcomes. Gibbs et al. also favor this type of research and assert that findings could help agencies identify and prioritize services for the most at-risk children.[71]

Alternative strategy
Even if Congress does not fund a child-only demonstration project, it should still support modest investment in evaluating child-only interventions. Rigorous analysis could be valuable in the absence of a new discretionary grant program because some infrastructure to support non-parental child-only households already exists in states. Should Congress fail to take action, philanthropic groups interested in child outcomes could fill the void by providing full or matching funding for state-level research.

Given that child-only cases now constitute nearly half of the total TANF caseload, our nation’s cash-assistance program must expand its work-oriented focus to include child wellbeing. Unless social service providers close communication gaps between child welfare and family assistance sectors, these children’s unmet material and service needs will persist. Congress should address these needs by funding demonstration projects to implement and test initiatives to serve child-only populations. Building knowledge about what works today will facilitate cost-effective, thoughtful program expansions when the economy improves.

[1] Martha J. Zaslow, Kristin A. Moore, Jennifer L. Brooks, Pamela A. Morris, Kathryn Tout, Zakia A. Redd, and Carol A. Emig, “Experimental Studies of Welfare Reform and Children.” The Future of Children, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2002.
[2] David T. Ellwood, Poor Support. (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Lawrence Mead, Beyond Entitlement. (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1986).
[5] Gayle Hamilton, “Moving People from Welfare to Work: Findings from the National Evaluation of Welfare to Work Strategies.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Manpower Development Research Corporation. July 2002. (accessed February 15, 2010).
[6] Steven M. Teles, Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics. (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1998).
[7] David Ellwood and Rebecca Blank, The Clinton Legacy for America’s Poor. (NBER Working Paper 8437, Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2001).
[8] The Urban Institute, “A Decade of Welfare Reform: Facts and Figures.” June 2006. (accessed February 15, 2010).
[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Eighth Annual Report to Congress,” 2009. (accessed October 19, 2009).
[10] Deborah Gibbs, Jennifer Kasten, Anupa Bir, Sonja Hoover, Dean Duncan and Janet Mitchell, “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.” Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. June 2004. (accessed February 19, 2010).
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF child-only cases trends and issues.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assitance, Welfare Peer Technical Assistance Network. 2009. (accessed October 12, 2009).
[15] Social Security Administration, “What is Supplemental Security Income?” (accessed February 15, 2010).
[16] Rutledge Q. Hutson, “Child Welfare and TANF Reauthorization.” Center for Law and Social Policy. February 2002. (accessed February 19, 2010).
[17] Deborah Gibbs, Jennifer Kasten, Anupa Bir, Dean Duncan, and Sonja Hoover, “Between two systems: Children in TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers.” Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 28, Is. 4, (2006).
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[21] Robert G. Strong and Debra A. Wood, “The Status of Families on Child-Only TANF Cases.” Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2002.
[22] Mary Farrell, Michael Fishman, Stephanie Laud, and Vincena Allen, “Understanding the AFDC/TANF Child-Only Caseload: Policies, Composition, and Characteristics in Three States.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. February 1, 2000. (accessed February 15, 2010).
[23] Rutledge Q. Hutson, “Child Welfare and TANF Reauthorization.”
[24] Marilyn Edelhoch, Qiduan Liu, and Linda S. Martin, “Unsung Heroes: Relative Caretakers in Child-only Cases.” Policy & Practice of Public Human Services, 2002.
[25] Robert G.Strong and Debra A. Wood, “The Status of Families on Child-Only TANF Cases.”
[26] Marilyn Edelhoch, Qiduan Liu, and Linda S. Martin, “Unsung Heroes: Relative Caretakers in Child-only Cases.”
[27] Robert G. Strong and Debra A. Wood, “The Status of Families on Child-Only TANF Cases.”
[28] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-only Cases With Relative Caregivers.”
[29] Robert G. Strong and Debra A. Wood, “The Status of Families on Child-Only TANF Cases.”
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Jan Kaplan, “Sanction Policies and Practices – An Update.” Welfare Information Network, 2004.
[34] General Accounting Office, “Welfare Reform – States are Restructuring Programs to Reduce Welfare Dependence.” Washington, DC, (1998).
[35] Jan Kaplan, “Sanction Policies and Practices – An Update.”
[36] General Accounting Office. “Welfare Reform – States are Restructuring Programs to Reduce Welfare Dependence.”
[37] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[38] Robert G. Strong and Debra A. Wood. “The Status of Families on Child-Only TANF Cases.”
[39] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases With Relative Caregivers.”
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Marilyn Edelhoch, Qiduan Liu, and Linda S. Martin, “Unsung Heroes: Relative Caretakers in Child-only Cases.”
[43] Ibid.
[44] Shelley Waters Boots and Rob Geen, “Family Care or Foster Care? How State Policies Affect Kinship Caregivers.” The Urban Institute. 1999. (accessed February 20, 2010).
[45] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[46] Robert Geen, “The Evolution of Kinship Care Policy and Practice.” The Future of Children Vol. 14, No. 1, (2004).
[47] Jennifer Ehrle Macomber, Rob Geen, and Rebecca L. Clark, “Children Cared for by Relatives: Who are They and How are They Faring?” The Urban Institute, Assessing the New Federalism, Report No. 6. (2001). (Accessed February 20, 2010).
[48] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.” 5-4.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[51] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[52] Robert Geen, “The Evolution of Kinship Care Policy and Practice.”
[53] Ibid., 137.
[54] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Children in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Child-only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[55] Ibid.
[56] Ibid.
[57] Ibid.
[58] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[59] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[60] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[61] Ibid.
[62] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[63] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[64] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[65] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[66] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”
[67] Leanne Charlesworth, Jenneate Mercick, and Courtney Kakuska, “TANF Child-Only Cases Trends and Issues.”
[68] Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. “Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committees: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.” (Washington, DC, 2010). 304.
[69] Child Welfare League of America. “Carmen Nazario Moves Closer to Final Approval for HHS Post.” Children’s Monitor Online. June 2009. (accessed October 1, 2009).
[70] Martha J. Zaslow et al., “Experimental Studies of Welfare Reform and Children.” 81.
[71] Deborah Gibbs et al., “Between Two Systems: Children in TANF Child-Only Cases with Relative Caregivers.”

Kristy Marynak is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Davidson College. Marynak’s experiences with public agencies at the federal, state, and local levels contribute to her understanding of TANF and child welfare policy.

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