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Book Reviews   |    
Changing Welfare Services: Case Studies of Local Welfare Reform Programs
Reviewed by Courtney L. Nemeth, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.8.1028-a
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by Michael J. Austin, Ph.D.; New York, Haworth Press, 2004, 417 pages, $39.95 softcover

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Clinicians, researchers, and administrators in the public health sector who are faced with welfare reform challenges will appreciate Changing Welfare Services: Case Studies of Local Welfare Reform Programs, which discusses innovative responses to federal and state welfare reform legislation. By detailing the successes of several original social service programs, Michael J. Austin, Ph.D., the book's editor, demonstrates that change can be welcomed by a public service agency as an opportunity to better address the unique needs of individuals and the community.

One case, presented in the book, that succeeds in demonstrating that welfare reform can benefit the community is "Utilizing Hotline Services to Sustain Employment." In Santa Clara County, California, a hot line service was created as a response to new government policies, emphasizing the development of welfare-to-work plans. Serviced by a collaboration of community partners, the hot line helped people find effective ways to deal with crises on the job. By providing this practical support, the hot line and its community allies worked together to move people from cash assistance to sustained employment. This case study proves that by responding to welfare policy changes, new social service programs can resourcefully address important issues in a community. Even more, welfare reform can be reflected in stronger community partnerships.

Austin groups the case studies into three broad sections: redefining service delivery, enhancing community partnerships, and promoting agency restructuring. After providing background information about reform legislation and a review of literature for each case, he documents the evolution of a variety of novel social service programs that have been created in response to welfare reform guidelines. Austin argues that by carefully recording program successes and "future challenges," creative thinkers in public health can tackle any challenge that government reform strategies create. For readers who are managing very specific types of welfare reform, Austin's categorization may be useful, allowing for the easy identification of cases that are relevant to their particular situation.

Those who read the entire case series, perhaps in an effort to understand the overarching programmatic ramifications of welfare reform, may be frustrated by the seemingly repetitive explanation of key legislation, which is clearly stated in the introduction and then revisited at the beginning of each chapter. However, for readers who use this book as a reference manual, such repetition can be helpful, because it presents only the legislative information relevant to each particular case study.

Austin ends each chapter with a "Lessons Learned" section, which describes the challenges each program has encountered. This section is invaluable, because it identifies pitfalls that agency managers can avoid as they begin to implement their own programs. In the end, the lesson learned from Changing Welfare Services is that change should not necessarily be avoided. The book provides public health agents with an opportunity to display originality, foster growth, and ultimately enhance public services to a community.

Dr. Nemeth is a PGY-IV resident at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and is also a student in the UIC School of Public Health.

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