Political Science ETDs


Shannon Terry

Publication Date



Despite the conventional wisdom that U.S. social policies represent the emergence of a monolithic, racialized system of poverty governance that is purely punitive, there is increasing evidence that many states are repealing disciplinary social policy measures. In fact, several states are increasingly adopting enabling policies that are aimed at increasing public benefits to restore social equity among low-income families. These developments challenge current depictions of the landscape of the U.S. welfare state and they suggest that social and early childhood health policy choices may not simply emanate from a unified conservative social movement and racialized social structures. This dissertation fills a critical gap in the literature by examining the development of social welfare policies over time and it widens the scope of analysis to include early childhood health policies that are targeted towards low-income families. Challenging structural explanations of reform, the dissertation re-focuses our attention to the politics of social and health policy outcomes. Using a mixed methods design, this dissertation finds that conservative social movements have influenced both the development and repeal of stringent social policy measures such as family caps. I also find that evidenced based policymaking and the rise of the infant mental health movement played a key role in the development of the early childhood policy strategies adopted throughout the two-thousands. At the service delivery level, this logic has bred the adoption of multiple instrumental strategies in which health policy interventions are selectively invoked to accomplish predetermined goals. One key consequence has been that marginalized families are subjected to participating in vast surveillance systems that document their childrens development, their emotional health, domestic violence and many other 'risk' factors.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Krebs, Timothy

Second Committee Member

Wallerstein, Nina

Third Committee Member


Project Sponsors

National Institutes of Health




early childhood social policy paternalism health policy home visitation

Document Type