The Child Outcomes Study is being carried out in three of the seven research sites of the NEWWS (Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California). It includes families in which there was at least one child between the ages of three and five at enrollment -- the families newly required to participate in welfare-to-work activities by the Family Support Act. In the Child Outcomes Study sites, the NEWWS is examining the impacts of two types of program approaches which represent very different theories of how government might best help recipients of public assistance move toward economic self-sufficiency (Hamilton et al., 1997). The "labor force attachment" (LFA) approach encouraged a rapid transition into the labor force, whereas the "human capital development" (HCD) approach followed a longer term strategy of investing in recipients' basic education, with the aim of increasing their qualification for higher wage jobs.
Eligible individuals were randomly assigned to one of these programs or they were placed in a control group. Both the HCD and LFA programs were composed of a "package" of components, including: (1) mandated participation in education, training, and/or employment activities, (2) messages about the importance of such activities for eventual employment, (3) enhanced case management services to direct and monitor clients' progress, and (4) services to facilitate employment. In each program approach, case managers could request or impose sanctions for mothers not complying with the participation mandate. Actual participation rates varied for families in the larger evaluation: Only half or fewer of mandatory enrollees in Riverside's two programs participated in any work preparation activity for at least a day since random assignment, compared to about two-thirds of mandatory enrollees in Grand Rapids' programs, and between 61 percent and 74 percent of mandatory enrollees in Atlanta's HCD and LFA programs, respectively. Among those participating, the average length of stay in activities ranged from 3 months (in Riverside's LFA program) to 9.4 months (in Atlanta's HCD program).(3)
Mothers in the control groups, however, were not subject to mandated participation in JOBS welfare-to-work programs and, thus, received no self-sufficiency messages, no enhanced case management, no JOBS services, and were not mandated to participate in any activities (but could seek out available education and training in their communities). They continued to be eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and, because the Family Support Act established an entitlement to child care for all welfare recipients in "approved" job preparation activities, mothers in the control groups (as well as those in each program group) were guaranteed child care.(4)
Enrollment into the Child Outcomes Study occurred between September 1991 and January 1994.(5) Two years after enrollment, the families were visited by carefully trained interviewers. Mothers were interviewed about work and family topics and about their children, with more detailed information obtained about one specific child, the "focal child," who was between the ages of about three and five years at the time of random assignment. In addition, developmental assessments of focal children's cognitive school readiness were conducted. The developmental status of the children was assessed across three domains: cognitive development and academic achievement, behavioral and emotional adjustment, and physical health and safety.
There is only a small body of previous research that examines the effects of welfare-to-work programs on children (see summary in Zaslow, Tout, Smith and Moore, 1998). Given the limited previous research, rather than beginning with a specific hypothesis about the direction of impacts for children (that is, with an expectation that assignment to a JOBS program would be associated with favorable, or alternately with unfavorable impacts on children), this study was undertaken with the aim of exploring a range of possibilities: (1) that there would be no discernable impacts on children; (2) that mothers' assignment to a JOBS program would result in favorable impacts on children; (3) that mothers' assignment to a JOBS program would result in unfavorable impacts on children; (4) that there would be impacts on children only in specific subgroups of families. The study was designed with sufficient power to reasonably assess whether there were harmful impacts on children, an important hypothesis to examine when the new provisions of the Family Support Act were being implemented. The design also has sufficient power to assess whether favorable impacts occurred or whether different impacts occurred for different subgroups. Unfavorable impacts on children would undermine the policy goal of enhancing economic self-sufficiency across the generations in families receiving welfare.