2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

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Phyllis Gyamfi: Committed to Welfare Reform

"I want to investigate the effects of employment on low-income single black mothers and their children. In particular, my dissertation, "When Current Welfare Recipients Become Employed," will examine mothers who have made or are making the transition from welfare to work, as well as how these transitions are associated with child-well being," said Phyllis Gyamfi, doctoral candidate in Developmental Psychology and Research Fellow at the Center for Young Children and Families.

Gyamfi has a strong record of researching issues relating to the employment of single black mothers and parental stress. This year Gyamfi received the "Outstanding Research Award" from the Society for Social Work and Research for the paper she co-authored with Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Dr. Aurora P. Jackson of the Columbia School of Social Work, and Mandy Blake, a research assistant of Dr. Jackson's. The result of the research, which was funded by the W.T. Grant Foundation, led to the publication of the paper, "Employment Status, Psychological Well-Being, Social Support, and Physical Discipline Practices of Single Black Mothers, which appeared in the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

"In that paper we were looking at disciplinary practices among single, black mothers. We wanted to see whether employment status per se had an influence on the frequency of spanking. The take-home message was that employment did reduce the frequency of spanking by mothers who repeated more symptoms of depression and stress," said Gyamfi.

Last year, Gyamfi was the first place winner of the American Psychological Association's graduate research competition for her paper "Employment Among Low-Income Single Black Mothers: Associations with Parenting Behavior, Parental Stress and Child School Readiness." Gyamfi found that among 188 low-income, single, black, welfare or former welfare mothers, employed mothers reported less depression and less parenting stress than unemployed mothers.

Earlier in her graduate career, Gyamfi received a summer fellowship in "Child and Family Policy" from the Center for Young Children and Families. She was one of several doctoral students from across the country learning about policy-relevant research.

Once she receives her doctorate, Gyamfi looks forward to doing policy work at a research center. "Given that I've been doing so much in terms of welfare reform," Gyamfi said, "I would like to continue that and do research in this area to inform policy-makers."

Gyamfi is candid about how the work she has been doing with welfare mothers has impacted her life. "It's very sad. It's very sad when you enter homes where you can tell that a family is suffering, having a very hard time just coping."

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