Funding: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 047653
The principle objectives of this project were to study the implementation of welfare reform guidelines that impact substance abuse at the local level and to document the intended and unintended consequences that have arisen out of this implementation process. We did so through a case study of a large California county. We used archival analysis of documents on the policy development process, key informant interviews of policymakers, and ethnographic observation of day-to-day life in welfare offices. The project focused on the local level because, under federalism and welfare reform’s devolution of federal authority, this is largely where the policymaking and implementation process unfolds.
This project addressed the development and implementation of these four policy measures using two approaches. In the first component of the study, we use archival analysis and key informant interviews to trace the development of policies that impact substance abuse in the federal and California state welfare reform debates since the mid-1990s. Our objectives here were to examine the arguments and justifications for targeting substance abuse problems in the welfare population, the public image of substance abusers in the debate, and the similarities and differences between welfare policies in California and those in other areas of the US. The second component of the study used ethnographic methods, including in-depth interviews with welfare workers and participant observation in county welfare offices. Our objectives here were to examine how welfare reform policies that impact substance-abusing clients are actually being implemented on a day-to-day basis, to describe welfare workers’ attitudes towards and strategies for managing substance abuse problems in their clientele, and to analyze how workers interact with clients whom they conclude have substance abuse problems.