U.S. welfare reform initiatives are based on the assumption that the primary barriers to economic independence are individual deficits. However, the policy does not adequately account for situational and personal factors necessary for a successful transition from welfare to work. Without greater attention to these barriers, the policy is likely to fail or be implemented at high personal cost to recipients and their families. This paper uses a personin- environment social systems framework to examine the personal and family resources available to a group of women who were receiving AFDC and participating in an urban Head Start program. Structured interviews and literacy assessments with 77 AFDC recipientsp articipatingi n a Head Start program indicate that the barriers to self-support are not related to substance abuse, health problems, deficits in literacy, or a lack of interest in work. However, most caregivers do not have adequate training or education to prepare them to compete in the job market, nor do they feel equipped to find a job on their own. The results with respect to family resources are mixed. While families possess a number of coping mechanisms, caregivers have little support from social network members for day-to-day child care activities. The implications of the findings for welfare policy are discussed.

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