Impact on Young Children and Their Families 2-Years After Enrollment: Why Look at Two-Year Impacts of JOBS Welfare-to-Work Programs on Children?. Main Hypotheses of This Two-Year Follow-Up Child Outcomes Report


This study considers four broad hypotheses with respect to the impacts of JOBS welfare-to-work programs on children:

The first hypothesis is the null hypothesis, that is, that there are no impacts on the children of welfare recipients mandated to participate in JOBS. Three scenarios might result in null findings. First, it may be that no impacts occur on such variables as maternal education, receipt of welfare and other social and health services, earnings, family income, or on maternal subjective well-being or parenting, or use of child care. In other words, welfare-to-work approaches under JOBS may not affect those targeted and non-targeted outcomes or environments that would be expected to affect children's outcomes; hence, impacts on children are unlikely. A second scenario is that, while impacts on mothers and/or the child's environment occur, they are not of sufficient magnitude to affect children's development. A third scenario is that mothers experience program impacts, perhaps even of sufficient magnitude to affect children, but these impacts are in offsetting directions that "cancel out," leading to no overall impacts on children. For example, mothers may experience significant increases in family income which may on its own bode well for child outcomes, but mothers may at the same time experience increased stress as they balance work and family responsibilities, leading to no net effect on children.

The second main hypothesis is that there are favorable impacts of welfare-to-work approaches under JOBS on children. For this hypothesis to be supported, the processes set in motion by mothers' mandated participation in JOBS -- for example, impacts on economic and/or psychological well-being, parenting, or child care use -- must yield positive effects on at least some of the child outcomes studied. It should be noted that there may be positive impacts on some child outcomes even if there are neutral or negative impacts on some maternal outcomes. For example, mothers may not experience increases in economic resources, but their participation in work preparation activities may enhance their well-being and translate into more positive parenting and child outcomes.

The third main hypothesis is that there are unfavorable impacts of welfare-to-work approaches under JOBS on children of enrollees. Negative child impacts could occur in the context of negative, neutral, or positive impacts on mothers. Children could experience unfavorable impacts, for example, if despite participation in JOBS and a transition to employment, the family experiences no net improvement in economic circumstances, and the child is in alternative care that is unstable or of lower quality.

The final main hypothesis addressed in this report is that impacts will occur only or especially among certain subgroups of children. Children considered at higher risk for poorer developmental outcomes based on selected family characteristics at the outset of the evaluation may experience negative impacts if the mandate serves to be an additional stressor in these families' lives, and/or the mothers are not able to mobilize to participate successfully in mandated activities. Yet favorable impacts for children from higher-risk families might also be anticipated if JOBS programs effectively address the risk factors in these families (such as low educational attainment and limited work experience). In a parallel manner, both favorable and unfavorable impacts for children might be predicted for children from lower-risk families. Children in lower-risk families would stand to benefit if mothers in these families show particularly favorable economic impacts. Yet if mothers in lower-risk families participate in JOBS and secure employment at particularly high rates, but more often find themselves in undesirable work situations than control group mothers (who would not be sanctioned for forgoing an undesirable job opportunity), the lower economic security of such employment and/or the stress of such employment could have unfavorable effects on the home environment and on children.

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.