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?. Through What Pathways Might JOBS Affect Children?

09/17/2001

There are multiple pathways by which JOBS welfare-to-work approaches could affect children (Zaslow, Moore, Morrison, and Coiro, 1995). JOBS may affect children by bringing about changes on outcomes explicitly targeted by the program (such as maternal education and employment and earnings), as well as derivatives of these outcomes (such as health insurance and child care use), and/or by bringing about changes in outcomes not targeted by the program (such as maternal psychological well-being and parenting behavior).

For example, with respect to outcomes targeted by JOBS programs, under the human capital development program approach, mothers are directed toward activities to enhance their basic educational skills. Improving their own reading and math skills may enable mothers to be more supportive of their children as the children enter school and begin learning to read and do arithmetic. In addition, mothers who are attending classes and doing homework provide a role model for their children that emphasizes the value of learning and study. This may lead the children to focus more on school. And to the extent that improved skills translate into better employment opportunities in the long run, these mothers may also experience increases in income, which can benefit children as described above.

If, as intended, mothers assigned to both human capital development and labor force attachment programs do experience program impacts in employment and earnings, families may be better off financially. Improvements in a family's economic situation may lead the family to move to a better neighborhood, invest in books and stimulating toys and experiences, and purchase better quality food and child care. In addition, higher income may improve maternal psychological well-being, leading her to be more emotionally supportive of her child (Goodman and Brumley, 1990; McLoyd, 1990).

Child care represents another pathway by which JOBS might affect children, given the increased time children may be expected to spend in non-maternal care as their mothers participate in educational and work-preparation activities or in actual employment. However, the effects of child care on children depend on the quality and consistency of care more than on the simple fact that a child attends care (Hayes, Palmer, and Zaslow, 1990; Smith, 1998). Hence, the effects on children of entering care are likely to be complex.

The implications of mandated participation in JOBS for mothers' access to health insurance and to health care services represents another pathway through which children may be affected. JOBS programs target health insurance and access to health care services in that children are covered by Medicaid while receiving AFDC and, potentially, for up to 12 months while their mothers transition off welfare. Yet few entry-level jobs for which these mothers would qualify offer health benefits. After the transitional 12 month period, it is possible that mothers who have transitioned off of welfare would lack health insurance for themselves and their children. Children's health may suffer if mothers delay or do not even seek treatment or well-child care due to lack of health insurance.

While JOBS programs did not seek to bring about changes in maternal psychological well-being and parenting behavior, these aspects of family life could nevertheless be affected by a mothers' assignment to JOBS. Given the evidence on the close linkages between maternal psychological well-being and parenting behavior with child outcomes (Belsky, 1984; McGroder, 2000; McLoyd, 1990), these aspects of family life also constitute pathways through which mandated participation in JOBS may affect children (McGroder, 2000; Moore, Zaslow, Coiro, Miller, and Magenheim, 1995; Zaslow, Moore, Morrison, and Coiro, 1995).

Contrasting hypotheses have been articulated for how assignment to a JOBS program could affect maternal psychological well-being and parenting behavior (Zaslow, Dion, and Sargent, 1998; Zaslow et al., 2000). A "stress hypothesis" posits that the requirement to participate in educational or employment activities requires a reorganization of family life and adaptation to new care situations and routines by all family members. Mothers with limited education and/or employment experiences might find welfare-to-work activities frustrating and difficult, at least initially. If the changes in routine and daily activities engender stress, this could have unfavorable implications for parenting behavior (for example, resulting in greater harshness in mother-child interactions). A "stimulation hypothesis," by contrast, posits that maternal involvement in educational or employment activities outside of the home could serve as sources of stimulation to mothers, which in turn could be reflected in the level of cognitive stimulation that they provide to their children. If mothers improve their educational attainment and gain job skills, they could experience enhanced self-esteem and competence. Over time, improved family economic circumstances could decrease stress and improve maternal supportiveness in interactions with children.