It’s been about 10 years since President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law, and it’s been an overall success story, with state welfare rolls currently down by half and hundreds of thousands of former recipients now in the workforce instead of in a state of lifetime government-dependency.

But that hasn’t stopped the opponents of welfare reform from engaging in a decade of kvetching–mostly at the fact that former welfare recipients often get paid–surprise, surprise–entry-level wages because–surprise, surprise–they’re working at entry-level jobs. The pro-welfare people think that every recipient ought to start at the top.

But here’s a new anti-welfare-reform wrinkle, in today’s Washington Post, from Mark E. Courtney, a social-work professor at the University of Chicago: Welfare payments are good because they help subsidize child abuse.

First, there’s this, from Courtney:

Simply put, many of the parents coming into the welfare office today are too unhealthy, too poorly educated, too service-needy and too psychosocially challenged to work.

OK–but if people are too unhealthy, poorly educated, “service-needy” (whatever that means), and “psychocially challenged” to work, aren’t they also, pari passu, too “psychosocially challenged” to be very good parents? After all, that’s what welfare is: paying women to pursue stay-at-home motherhood as a full-time career while the government plays breadwinning dad. 

Then there’s this:

More than four of five parents reported at least one potential barrier to employment: a disability; a disabled family member; poor or fair health; no high school diploma or general equivalency diploma; a mental health problem; an alcohol or drug problem; involvement in a physically abusive relationship. More than half reported two or more barriers to employment, and almost three in 10 reported three or more.

Again, what are people with “a mental health problem” or “an alcohol or drug problem” doing raising children? Isn’t that potentially dangerous? Would you leave your own child in the care of a woman with “an alcohol or drug problem”? And if you’re in a “physically abusive relationship,” is that something you want kids to be exposed to?

And then there’s this:

More than half the parents had already been investigated for child maltreatment when they applied for welfare. Two of five were investigated in the next five years, and about one-sixth had a child placed in foster care.

And these are the people that social-work professionals like Courtney want to pay to be with their kids 24/7?

Courtney unctuously concludes:

Let’s not forget that welfare is first and foremost a program for the support of children. If we know that many parents applying for welfare have been investigated for child maltreatment and that they’re very likely to be investigated again, how can we justify not offering them voluntary preventive services, such as parenting classes?

I love that “voluntary” part. Yes, little Junior is being beaten to a pulp every night, but maybe we can talk his mom into “volunteering” to take a class where she’ll learn that beating a kid to a pulp isn’t considered good parenting. Or maybe, since it’s all voluntary, she’d prefer just to keep beating him up.

Isn’t Courtney really saying that the welfare system amounts to taxpayer-subsidized child abuse? And that we need to expand the system–hire even more social workers–so that we can have even more taxpayer-subsidized child abuse?

I have a better idea: Skip the “parenting” classes and cut to the chase. If the majority of welfare moms are currently maltreating their kids, maybe we ought to consider the strong likelihood that full-time motherhood may not really be these women’s vocation. But that would put a lot of people like Prof.Courtney out of business.