ETI Publications

Document Type

Technical Paper

Publication Date



In July, 1987 the State of Wisconsin enacted legislation implementing a “Learnfare” policy for families receiving AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). As a condition for receiving aid, teenagers who had not completed high school were required to attend school regularly or to be removed from their parents’ (or their own) grant, i.e., “sanctioned.” The waivers granted by the federal government in October, 1987 permitted Wisconsin to impose the Learnfare sanctioning without making a federally legislated assessment of the sanctioned individuals’ “educational, child care, and other supportive service needs ...[or a] review of the family circumstances, which may include the needs of any child of the individual.” This study examined the Milwaukee County social service and Children’s Court records of all Milwaukee County youth and their families in the sanctioned populations. Of the 6,612 county teens sanctioned from September 1988 through December 1989, 1,327 (20%) were in families identified by social services or the court system as having possible or documented problems with child abuse or neglect (for the sanctioned teen or another child in the family). Another 1,394 sanctioned teens (21%) were in the Children’s Court system either as Children in Need of Protective Services or for delinquency. The teens in these troubled families accounted for $1.5 million of the $3.3 million in “savings” resulting from reduced AFDC payments to county families over the sixteen month period.