How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Mothers' Employment and Child Care Use


The child care questions asked of the client survey sample (families in four research sites) provide the basis for the discussion below of child care use as a support for employment. For the full follow-up period, respondents were asked about the use of child care after leaving welfare because of earnings, and about receipt of transitional child care benefits.(5) Unlike the survey information that was collected at the two-year follow-up point, the five-year survey did not ask about receipt of child care subsidies other than transitional child care benefits. For the more limited time period of the "most recent spell of employment," respondents were asked about use of, and out-of-pocket expenses for, child care while employed.(6)

Children of client survey sample members were between ages 1 and 18 at random assignment and between ages 6 and 23 at the time of the five-year follow-up. The questions about child care as a support for employment generally were asked about all children in the family who were under age 13 at the time when the care was used. This could have included child care for children who joined the family after random assignment.(7) These analyses were performed with the family as the unit of analysis, because the child care information could not be linked to specific children in each family. Although it is possible to conduct analyses by the age of the youngest child in the household to capture roughly the different needs and circumstances for children across the age range, especially for those with toddlers and preschoolers rather than only school-age children, this type of analysis was beyond the scope of the chapter.

It is critical to emphasize that child care benefits were available to both program and control group mothers based on their engagement in work-related activities or their employment following an exit from welfare. That is, there was no distinctive child care treatment specific to the program groups within the NEWWS Evaluation (such as provision of more extensive subsidies, special help when there were problems with child care arrangements, or access to particular high-quality child care). Accordingly, any impacts on child care participation and use of child care benefits for purposes of employment are related to program impacts on mothers' work-related activities or to other program features, such as the programs' mandatory nature, that might have led directly to increased employment. Thus, it is important to ask whether and to what extent families made greater use of child care and of child care benefits for purposes of employment when they had been assigned to a JOBS welfare-to-work program.

Findings presented in Chapter 4 of this report regarding program impacts on employment underscore the importance of distinguishing between measures for the full follow-up period and measures for a recent and more limited time period. While impacts on average number of quarters employed and on total earnings were widespread across the full follow-up period, impacts were more circumscribed for measures of employment and earnings at the time of the five-year follow-up, and in a number of sites differences were no longer statistically significant at this point. As noted in Chapter 4, the narrowing of differences by the five-year point between the program and control groups on employment outcomes reflects, in part, the fact that control group mothers increasingly sought employment on their own over the follow-up period and the fact that some program group members left employment over time. In addition, in Atlanta and Grand Rapids some or all control group families became subject to new state welfare-to-work initiatives in the final years of the evaluation, following passage of the 1996 welfare law.(8) Thus, in looking at program impacts on child care as a support for employment and the transition from welfare, it seems reasonable to predict more widespread impacts on measures looking across the full follow-up period than on measures pertaining to the recent spell of employment.

It will also be important to keep in mind the ages of the children in the evaluation sample. While some mothers bore children over the course of the five-year follow-up, children who had already been born at the start of the follow-up period increasingly moved into the school-age and adolescent age groups as the follow-up period proceeded. Findings from recent national surveys indicate that while child care use increases with child age during the preschool years (that is, for children aged 5 or under but not yet in kindergarten),(9) child care use begins to decline once children enter school, though substantial numbers of school-age children continue to be in regular child care arrangements.(10) Thus, by the time of the final follow-up, a higher proportion of the children in the NEWWS Evaluation might be in an age range for which employed mothers no longer report regular child care arrangements for their children. Against this backdrop of diminished overall child care use, program impacts might also be less likely to occur.

In sum, across the full five-year follow-up as well as at the end of the follow-up, it is important to consider the extent to which child care played a role in supporting mothers' employment and departure from welfare receipt. Yet because the child care treatment did not differ for program and control groups, because the pattern of employment impacts narrowed in a number of sites over the course of the follow-up, and because of the increasing ages of children in the evaluation sample, the possibility exists that impacts will not be strong or widespread, particularly when focusing on child care use during mothers' most recent spell of employment.