How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Other Program Features


1. Child Care Supports for Participation and Work

How much support in the form of child care assistance could an individual expect for her participation in a program or subsequent employment?

For many welfare recipients with young children the major obstacle to working or attending an education or job training program is child care. All 11 programs studied in the evaluation provided this assistance to participants in the program (and to control group members who enrolled in activities on their own in the community) as well as transitional child care (TCC) for those who left welfare for work. However, the relative emphasis that the programs placed on making this assistance available and the messages that case managers sent to clients about the type of care they should choose varied by site (not by research group within site).

Participation-related child care. In the Atlanta LFA and HCD, Oklahoma, Portland, and Detroit programs, child care assistance was emphasized either by site staff or by the welfare department's organizational structure. In both Atlanta programs case managers actively promoted the availability of child care reimbursement as a benefit of program participation and even used it as an inducement for noncompliant clients to participate. In Oklahoma statewide emphasis on access to child care made assistance to clients readily available while they were in the program and after they left welfare for work. Oklahoma had no set caps on the amount of child care assistance that clients could receive. Atlanta and Oklahoma reimbursed only for care given by licensed providers.

Portland program caseworkers told clients that not having child care arrangements was not an acceptable reason for not participating in program activities. Staff often encouraged clients to have backup arrangements in case their regular provider fell through. Although case managers did not push specific types or locations of providers, they did emphasize the necessity for clients to make arrangements and assisted clients who were unable to make arrangements on their own.

Detroit program case managers reported that they spent much of their time on child care payment authorizations and that the priority placed on making child care payments took time away from employment and training counseling. Detroit staff would make referrals to licensed providers in the area on request, but the choice of provider (including choosing licensed child care or unlicensed care approved by the welfare department) was left to the client.

Both the Grand Rapids and Columbus programs would reimburse expenses from child care in licensed as well as unlicensed care, but expected clients to make their own arrangements. Referrals to licensed providers in the area could be made for clients at their request.

In all sites except Riverside, case managers said that child care providers were not difficult to come by. In Riverside, case managers noted that some area providers did not like working with the program or its participants because they did not approve of the reimbursement rates or procedures. These case managers encouraged clients to use low-cost, more informal arrangements, both to contain program costs and because they believed that clients would be more able to afford such arrangements after program or other government supports expired. Clients and case managers often clashed about the providers they wished to use, especially if clients chose more expensive care.

Transitional child care. In the Detroit, Portland, Columbus, and Oklahoma City programs, authorization for TCC payments did not appear to be difficult. In Portland, Columbus Integrated, and Oklahoma the use of integrated case managers, who are more likely to know both the welfare and employment information needed to determine if a client is eligible for TCC, may have made authorization in these sites easier for both program and control group members.

In the Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside LFA and HCD programs, few clients who began working received TCC; case managers in all three sites cited a lack of information about clients' welfare status when authorizing child care payments. Thus, TCC authorization in these sites would have been infrequent for both program and control group members.

2. Culture of Eligibility to Culture of Self-Sufficiency: Integrated Case Management

How likely was a welfare recipient to get a unified self-sufficiency message from the welfare department?

The eligibility-compliance culture of the welfare system (more common prior to FSA), in which contact between a client and an agency is focused solely on determining eligibility for staying on welfare, has been harshly criticized. Implementing a mandatory welfare-to-work program was one way that welfare offices hoped to change from an eligibility-compliance culture to a self-sufficiency culture, which would structure interactions and expectations around leaving welfare for work and preparation and supports for it. Yet this task is formidable; it requires the income maintenance and employment services staffs of the welfare offices to work together to send a unified message of the self-sufficiency goal to the client. If the sole responsibility for delivering the self-sufficiency message is remanded to the employment and training program, programs can be interpreted by clients and workers as requirements for continued receipt of assistance, or another element of compliance, instead of an overhaul of the philosophy of the welfare department. Implementing an integrated case management approach, in which one worker is responsible for both the eligibility determination and employment services functions, is one way that has been suggested to achieve a more unified culture.(26) Three of the programs in the NEWWS Evaluation used integrated case management, but these and the other eight programs met with different levels of success in coordinating the messages between their eligibility and employment preparation staffs and in refocusing the welfare department's interactions with clients on the road toward self-sufficiency.

As part of a specially formulated research experiment, the Columbus Integrated program used integrated case management. Staff had sufficient resources and small enough caseloads that they were able to perform both their income maintenance and self-sufficiency roles. Thus, an individual's case manager could both monitor her progress in becoming self-sufficient and verify her credentials for staying on welfare. As of the two-year follow-up point, this program had the largest effect on changing clients' minds about whether they agreed that the welfare office tried hard to get recipients employed or enrolled in school.

The Portland program was marked by a strong partnership between welfare-to-work staff (eligibility workers and integrated case managers) and case management staff contracted by the Portland welfare department. The division of labor was flexible between contractor staff and welfare department integrated case managers, with responsibility for case management services such as reassignment to activities and attendance monitoring, as well as a mission of promoting self-sufficiency, shared by both. Moreover, eligibility workers in Portland were among the most knowledgeable about the program and spent more time discussing the program with recipients than those in most other programs. These results suggest that together eligibility workers, integrated case managers, and contractor staff were able to send a unified self-sufficiency message to welfare recipients.

The Oklahoma City program also used integrated case management. However, limited resources and large caseloads led case managers to put little overall emphasis on the employment services function of their position; in fact, their performance evaluation benchmarks were primarily related to the accuracy of their eligibility duties. Like Portland, Oklahoma City supplemented its integrated case managers with some caseworkers who focused on employment-related services. However, owing to staffing constraints, not all clients received this added case management. The result was a program with little overall emphasis on self-sufficiency.

The Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Riverside, and Columbus Traditional programs all used a separated, or "traditional," case management structure, in which a client had two different case managers, one who specialized in determining eligibility and processing payments and another who focused on her participation and progress in a welfare-to-work program. Although the different staffs did not report any major problems in their working relationship, they mentioned that there was a lack of partnership between the two. Income maintenance workers knew little about the programs and most often discussed with clients the penalties for nonparticipation in the program, not the services it provided, suggesting that participation was cast as a compliance requirement and not a route to self-sufficiency.

The separation between the two staffs of the welfare department in the Detroit program was even more pronounced. Income maintenance workers knew little about the program and had almost no contact with clients regarding their participation; the welfare-to-work program case managers in Detroit handled some income-related functions related to program participation, such as child care payments, that income maintenance workers were responsible for in the other traditional sites. Staff mentioned that this separation was intentional, so that the welfare-to-work case managers would be able to communicate consistent messages and information. In short, the priorities of the two staffs were so dissimilar that an individual was likely to experience very different cultures during her contact with the department.