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Social assistance and school dropouts : a study of the factors affecting school persistence of children in families receiving social assistance Brown, Micaela Margaret


In the last half century the way to full self-development has become intimately bound up with the acquisition of an ever-lengthening formal education. Moreover, the successful operation of a democratic system demands a thinking people. Concern for the welfare of people on social assistance implies the promotion of equality of educational opportunity for their children. Failure to do so is both a betrayal of responsibility and a neglect of human resources which we can ill afford. The school dropout has been singled out as the object of a great deal of publicity in North America in recent years. Although numerous studies have been undertaken to identify the characteristics of school dropouts, few studies have dealt specifically with this problem as it is found in families in receipt of social assistance. The present study looks at the complex network of interacting forces: social, economic and educational, affecting these families and attempts to identify those factors which seem significant to school persistence. Illustrations of the way in which these various forces actually do combine to encourage early school withdrawal in public assistance families are cited. Two hundred and ninety families having children between the ages of 13 and 21 were selected from the public assistance caseload in one area of Vancouver. Information regarding age, length of time on assistance, and family composition were obtained from assistance application forms. A sample of 27 families having children between the ages of 15 and 21 were selected for interviewing. The interview schedules were designed to obtain specific items of information from the parents, the eldest child still in school and the eldest dropout and/or graduate, wherever they occurred. Analysis of these interviews shows that families on social assistance do not form a homogeneous group in their attitudes toward school continuance. The proportion of dropouts in public assistance families appears to be substantially higher than for the general population. School experience and parental motivation were found to be important factors in determining school persistence. Factors which were seen to be operative in determining the level of family motivation were feelings about receiving social assistance, parental attitudes to education, mobility, intra-familial relationships, health and social relationships. There was a group of students whose prospects of graduating could have been materially improved by a higher level of family income and a more encouraging approach by the school or the Social Service Department. There are disturbing indications that neither the school system nor other social resources are a sufficient counterforce to offset negative parental attitudes in families on public assistance.

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