Impacts of a Mandatory Welfare-to-Work Program on Children at School Entry and Beyond: Findings from the NEWWS Child Outcomes Study. The Child Outcomes Study: A Substudy of the NEWWS


Under the Family Support Act, welfare recipients with preschool-age children were required to participate in work preparation activities. Policy makers were interested in determining whether requiring low-income mothers to secure employment would affect their young children and, in particular, whether employment- or education-focused programs were more beneficial or detrimental to children.

Why would one expect a program aimed at mothers  a program that did not provide services directly to children  to affect their children? Researchers have found, and many practitioners have witnessed, that interventions aimed at individual family members can have "spillover" effects on other family members and on family functioning as a whole. Mothers required to participate in JOBS may find this a welcome push and may benefit from the work preparation services. The increased family income from earnings, and any accompanying improvements in mothers' self-esteem, would enhance the child's home environment, thereby improving outcomes for young children. On the other hand, the mandate to participate in JOBS activities (with financial sanctions for non-compliance) may be difficult for some mothers already stressed by their responsibilities of providing for and raising their children. Increased stress  perhaps even leading to depression  may lead mothers to interact more harshly with their children, which can prove detrimental for children's outcomes.

Policy makers were also interested in learning whether different welfare-to-work approaches had different effects on children. Some believed that increases in mothers' educational attainment that resulted from participating in an education-focused program would bode well for their children (particularly for their cognitive and academic success at school), even if such participation did not immediately or ultimately lead to increased employment and earnings for the families. Others argued that the quicker the mothers secured employment (through the employment-focused approach), the sooner their children would reap the financial benefits.

Policy makers also sought basic, descriptive information on how these families were faring economically, as well as information about the well-being of these single mothers and the developmental status of their children. To address these issues, the Department of Health and Human Services, with additional funding from the Department of Education, launched the Child Outcomes Study.

The Child Outcomes Study collected descriptive information on child and family functioning and evaluated the impacts on young children and their families of the six JOBS programs in the three NEWWS sites operating both an education-focused and an employment-focused program: Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California. Single mothers with a preschool-age child at random assignment who were applying for or receiving welfare in these sites were eligible for the Child Outcomes Study. Just over 3,000 families were included in the two-year follow-up (when children were between about 5 and 7 years old), and approximately 2,300 families were included in the five-year follow-up (when children were between about 8 and 10 years old).

In addition to administrative data and information from the "core" survey, detailed information on outcomes for young children were obtained from surveys given to mothers two years after random assignment, and to mothers, children, and teachers five years after random assignment. Standardized assessments were also conducted to tap young children's academic school readiness (at the two-year follow-up) and achievement in math and reading (at the five-year follow-up). Measures of maternal and family well-being were obtained from mothers' reports and through interviewer ratings at both the two-year and five-year follow-up.(4)

Domains of Development Examined, and Selected Measures
Domains Positive Outcomes Problem Outcomes
Cognitive and Academic Functioning Academic school readiness

Math and reading skills

School engagement

Grade repetition

Performance below grade level

Disciplinary problems

Behavioral, Emotional, and Social Skills Positive social skills (cooperation, self-control) Externalizing behaviors (bullies, cheats, lies)

Internalizing problems (acts depressed/withdrawn)

Health and Safety Maternal rating of child's overall health Physical, mental emotional condition that requires frequent medical attention