Do Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Programs Affect the Well-Being of Children?. Size of Impacts

Few evaluations of welfare-to-work programs that have examined effects on children used a random assignment research design. As a result, in contrast to the situation for adult impacts, few benchmarks for characterizing the magnitude of child impacts exist. Nevertheless, this section attempts to assess the size of the found child impacts.

  • For the young children in the COS sample taken as a group, almost all child impacts can be considered small in magnitude.

One of the child impacts for this sample — the decrease in the proportion of mothers in the Riverside LFA program rating their young child as in excellent or very good health — had an effect size of one-third of a standard deviation. All other young child impacts were of a smaller magnitude, although, as will be discussed below, a few of the child impacts for lower-risk subgroups were larger. For example, the increase in the average Bracken School Readiness Composite test score for children of mothers in the Atlanta LFA program represents an increase of .14 of a standard deviation and indicates that focal children of program group mothers knew, on average, almost two more school readiness concepts than focal children of control group mothers. (A total of 61 concepts are assessed in this test.)

  • For school-age children across all evaluation sites, most of the child impacts can be viewed as small, but some are clearly larger and some are of concern. In two sites, for example, there was an increase in the proportion of parents reporting that a child had been removed from their care.

Most of the child impacts for this sample can be judged as small. Some of the impacts, however, are not so small. For example, the Oklahoma City program increased by 17 percentage points the proportion of parents reporting that at least one of their children was currently receiving or requiring help for behavioral or emotional problems (35 percent of program group parents reported this situation compared with 18 percent of control group parents).(24) Some of the impacts, though smaller in absolute size, are of concern owing to their nature. As one example, four programs increased the proportion of parents reporting that at least one of their children was currently attending a special class for behavioral or emotional problems (although an additional two programs had impacts in the opposite direction on this measure). As another example, the Columbus Traditional and the Grand Rapids HCD programs increased the proportion of parents reporting that a child had been removed from their care during the two-year follow-up period because they could not care for or handle the child. In the Columbus Traditional program, this increase was 6 percentage points (8 percent of program group parents compared with 2 percent of control group parents — a four-fold increase) and the Grand Rapids HCD program produced a 4 percentage point increase here (9 percent of program group parents compared with 5 percent of control group parents).(25)

It is unclear why there was an increase in the proportion of parents in two sites reporting that a child had been removed from their care. A similar result was found in a random assignment evaluation of the New Chance program, a voluntary demonstration project for young women who had children as teenagers and were high school dropouts.(26) The hypotheses that have been suggested for the New Chance finding, however — increased exposure to program staff, an increase in mothers moving out of their parental homes, and increased maternal depression — largely do not "hold true" for the Columbus Traditional and Grand Rapids HCD programs. While program group members in these two programs would have had more contact with case managers than their control group counterparts, increasing the chances that child abuse problems might have been identified, they would not have had any increase in exposure to program staff relative to their counterparts in the Columbus Integrated and Grand Rapids LFA programs. Impacts on child removal from the home were not found in these latter two programs.(27) In addition, few impacts on family living arrangements, which might lead to child neglect or abuse, were found in the two programs. These impacts were the following: For families with children of all ages in the Columbus Traditional program, there was a 5 percentage point increase, noted earlier, in the proportion living with family or friends and paying rent. For the same group of families in the Grand Rapids HCD program, there was a 3 percentage point decrease in the proportion of families whose household included relatives and a 3 percentage point increase in the proportion of families whose household did not include the parent's children. Finally, symptoms of maternal depression were examined in the Grand Rapids programs (not in the Columbus programs), and only for mothers in the COS sample. For that group of mothers in the Grand Rapids HCD program, however, no effect on mothers' depressive symptoms was found (although an increase in such symptoms was found for COS mothers in the Grand Rapids LFA program).