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?. Why Are Outcomes for Children Considered in a Program Aimed Primarily at Parents?

09/17/2001

Children's development is widely understood to be influenced by multiple contexts -- including family, neighborhood, child care, and school. These contexts, in turn, are influenced by larger societal and structural circumstances, such as economic conditions, culture, and public policy. This perspective is described as the ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; 1986) and represents the starting point for much of the current research on children, including this study. This perspective clearly posits that social programs aimed primarily at parents may also affect their children, by changing their experiences both outside of the home (for example, as children's care arrangements are altered) and/or within the home (for example, if the program influences parent-child interactions).

Evaluations of programs that have successfully altered outcomes for children at risk for problems in development tend to adopt an ecological approach, that is, they "see the child in the context of the family, and the family in the context of its surroundings" (Schorr, 1991, p. 267). Further, programs directed at parents are increasingly being examined for their effects on children in the families. Thus, in the Child Outcomes Study, the circumstances and development of the children living in welfare families are considered in light of their mothers' assignment to a JOBS labor force attachment or human capital development welfare-to-work program.

A large number of evaluations have examined the implications of job training and welfare-to-work programs on economic outcomes for adults. Established in 1967, the Work Incentive (WIN) program provided education, job training, and social services to AFDC recipients on a primarily voluntary basis, evolving into a mandatory job search program for mothers with children six and older (Hamilton and Brock, 1994). A modification of WIN, California's federally-funded Saturation Work Incentive Model (SWIM) demonstration, focused more heavily on education and training and less on immediate job search, compared to other WIN models. Evaluations of selected WIN programs and SWIM indicated that, compared to control group clients, program group clients obtained jobs more quickly and witnessed small increases in earnings and a reduction in AFDC benefits, with earnings increasing over a five-year period (Friedlander and Burtless, 1995). Moreover, the most persistent long-term earnings impacts appeared to be concentrated in programs offering education and training and not just job search activities (Friedlander and Burtless, 1995).

These and other studies suggest that small to moderate effects on employment are typical, and that reductions in public transfers are common (Gueron and Pauly, 1991). However, large impacts on total family income are less likely, often because gains in earnings are offset by reductions in AFDC benefits (Aber, Brooks-Gunn, and Maynard, 1995; Friedlander and Burtless, 1995). Consequently, clients may move off welfare and join the ranks of the working poor (Chase-Lansdale and Vinovskis, 1995). Recent findings from three sites of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies indicate that clients in the labor force attachment program in each site experienced gains in employment and earnings averaging more than $1,000 at the two-year follow-up point, clients in the human capital development program in two of the three sites also experienced gains (albeit, smaller) in employment and earnings, and clients in both programs in each site were less likely to be receiving welfare (Hamilton, Brock, Farrell, Friedlander, and Harknett, 1997). It appears that both the labor force attachment and human capital development strategies of the mandatory JOBS Program were more effective than the earlier (often voluntary) welfare-to-work approaches, at least in the short run. Extended follow-up is important to understand the efficacy of both JOBS approaches -- especially the human capital development strategy -- for improving the long-term economic circumstances of families.

A small but growing evaluation literature also examines the implications of economic security programs for the development of children, as well as for adult economic and non-economic outcomes. These studies provide evidence that interventions for disadvantaged families can have effects on multiple family members. One early example is a study of the Negative Income Tax Experiment, which provided a guaranteed minimum income to a sample of low-income families in several communities and was associated with an increase in children's reading achievement (Maynard and Murnane, 1979; Murnane, Maynard, and Ohls, 1981).

While as yet only a handful of evaluation studies among populations receiving welfare have considered possible implications for children, a very substantial body of basic research studies has documented the linkages between family characteristics and processes, and the well-being and development of children. Studies indicate, for example, that family structure is strongly related to children's development (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994), that family size and child spacing are strongly related to educational outcomes for children (Blake, 1989), that maternal child rearing practices predict children's developmental outcomes (Maccoby, 1999; Maccoby and Martin, 1983; Bornstein, 1995), that fathers play an important if not completely understood role in the development of their children (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1998; Lamb, 1997; Marsiglio and Day, 1997; Mosley and Thomson, 1995), that maternal psychological well-being affects mother-child interaction (Belsky, 1981; 1984; Coiro, 1997) and thereby children's development (McGroder, 2000; McLoyd, 1990), and that poverty and economic insecurity undermine children's development (Duncan and Brooks-Gunn, 1997). Thus, JOBS may affect children's development indirectly, to the extent that JOBS influences these family characteristics and processes.

Not only do programs for mothers receiving public assistance have the potential to affect the well-being of children, but programs aimed at children also have been found to have effects on parents. A review of programs that provide educationally-oriented intervention services for young children suggests that such programs can result in higher rates of maternal employment and more stable employment (Benasich, Brooks-Gunn, and Clewell, 1992). Thus, the child care benefits provided by welfare-to-work approaches under JOBS may not only affect children directly, they may also affect mothers' participation in JOBS activities and, through such participation, child outcomes.

The recognition that interventions can affect both children and parents has led to the implementation of programs that are explicitly two-generational in focus (Smith and Zaslow, 1995). Such programs "pursue the dual goals of economic self-sufficiency for families and healthy development of children" (Smith, Blank, and Collins, 1992, p. 2). Smith and Zaslow suggest that two-generational programs have the potential to improve children's well-being in the long term by focusing not just on one area of family functioning but on the multiple challenges and needs of at-risk families.

Several recent two-generational programs -- Even Start, Project Redirection, New Chance, and the Teenage Parent Demonstration -- provide evidence that such interventions can have effects on the experiences of both mothers and children. For example, the Even Start family literacy program, which provides early childhood education, parenting education, and adult education to disadvantaged families, had a positive effect on the presence of reading materials in the home (St. Pierre, Swartz, Murray, Deck and Nickel, 1993).

Project Redirection, a demonstration initiated by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) that offered comprehensive services on a voluntary basis to economically disadvantaged mothers aged 17 and younger, was found to have positive effects on mothers' warmth and acceptance toward their children and on language stimulation in the home, as well as modest, but significant, positive effects on the cognitive and socioemotional development of participants' children five years after the program began (Polit, Quint, and Riccio, 1988). Children in the Project Redirection group were also more likely to have attended Head Start. These program impacts for children were more powerful than the long-term economic impacts found for the mothers who participated in Project Redirection.

New Chance was a comprehensive, voluntary demonstration program for young women on AFDC who had given birth to their first child at age 19 or younger and who had dropped out of school. Mothers attended classes on GED preparation, parenting, life skills, family planning, and occupational skills. Children of enrollees received child care while their mothers participated in the program and pediatric health services, as needed. The evaluation found impacts on the educational activities and attainment of mothers in the experimental group at both the 18- and 42-month follow-ups, compared to those in a control group who did not have access to the New Chance Program (but who did have access to other services and programs in their communities). Not surprisingly, given the child care component of the New Chance Program, children of experimental group mothers were more likely to have been in non-maternal care, especially center-based care, at the 18-month follow-up (Quint, Polit, Bos, and Cave, 1994), though there were no longer differences in child care participation at the 42-month follow-up (Quint, Bos, and Polit, 1997). Program children's home environments were slightly more emotionally supportive, and their mothers reported somewhat less punitive child rearing attitudes at the 18-month follow-up (Quint et al., 1994). Results from analyses of observational and survey data collected approximately 21 months after random assignment for a subset of families within the New Chance Evaluation also point to small reductions in the incidence of harsh parenting behavior and increases in the quality of maternal book reading to children. In addition, mothers in the experimental group reported spending more time in parenting chores, reported greater warmth in their relationships with their children, and were found to have a more supportive home environment than mothers in the control group (Zaslow and Eldred, 1998).

However, by the 42-month follow-up, the only positive impacts on children's home environment occurred for the subgroup of mothers who had shown lower levels of depressive symptoms at baseline. Also, by the 42-month point, there were negative program impacts on maternal report measures of the children's social behavior, though subgroup impact analyses revealed these to be significant only for specific subgroups of families, for example, those families in which mothers had shown higher levels of depression at baseline (Quint, Bos, and Polit, 1997). These findings suggest that multiple sources of influence on children (such as the positive program impacts on parenting but negative impacts on maternal psychological well-being) can accumulate and offset each other (Zaslow and Eldred, 1998).

Evaluators hypothesize that New Chance may have raised expectations of program mothers beyond what the program was able to do to alter their life circumstances, resulting in "dashed hopes," manifested in more depressive symptoms and dissatisfaction with economic circumstances compared to control group mothers (Quint, Bos, and Polit, 1997). In sum, the New Chance Evaluation illustrates the importance of examining shorter and longer-term program impacts on mothers and children; the possibility that program impacts are concentrated in certain subgroups; the potential for two-generational programs to have both positive and negative effects on mothers and the family environment, leading to either positive or, in the case of New Chance, negative impacts on some child outcomes; and the difficulty in making a positive impact on mothers and children in families experiencing numerous life stressors.

In 1986, the federal government funded the Teenage Parent Demonstration, an experiment targeted to those most likely to become long-term welfare recipients: teenage parents. Anticipating many features of the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) Program established in the Family Support Act of 1988, experimental group mothers were mandated to participate in educational and/or employment activities, as well as in workshops on personal skills, problem-solving, and parenting, and they faced financial sanctions for non-participation. At the same time, they were provided child care, help with transportation, and informal counseling by case managers in order to support the transition from welfare to school and work.

Evaluation results indicate that, after two years, program mothers were significantly more likely to be involved in self-sufficiency activities and had higher monthly earnings and lower AFDC benefits compared to a control group (Aber, Brooks-Gunn, and Maynard, 1995). An embedded observational study of a subsample of evaluation mothers and their three- to five-year-old children revealed no impacts on mothers' positive or harsh parenting and no impacts on their children's enthusiasm, persistence, or anxiety (as rated by observers); sociability or mental health problems (as reported by mothers); or verbal ability (as assessed by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised, PPVT-R). However, non-experimental analyses examining parenting and child outcomes for mothers at different levels of program participation revealed that mothers who did not participate in any self-sufficiency activity displayed more negative emotion toward their children and used more harsh control, and their children displayed less persistence and enthusiasm, compared to mothers who participated in the program at moderate or high levels (Aber et al., 1995). Of course, mothers who chose to participate to a greater degree may differ on pre-existing characteristics from mothers who "self-select" into non-participation; hence, these results cannot be unequivocally attributed to the Teenage Parent Demonstration.

Overall, these findings suggest that programs aimed at either parents or children can also affect the experiences of the other generation. In particular, the available evidence indicates that the experiences of both mothers and children, in and out of the home, can be changed. The ultimate implications of varied program approaches for the developmental trajectories of children are not yet fully understood. Examination of such two-generation effects represents the explicit purpose of the NEWWS Child Outcomes Study. Thus, although welfare-to-work approaches under JOBS are primarily directed at parents, we must consider the potential effects on both the parental and child generations.