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

07/01/2004

Did this set of JOBS programs improve upon or worsen these levels of cognitive and behavioral functioning and health for these young children? Because random assignment ensures that families and their young children are identical (on average) in every way except for exposure to the JOBS program, we can confidently conclude whether a program had a causal effect (called an "impact") by comparing subsequent outcomes for children in each program group to outcomes for children in the corresponding control group.(11)

  • This set of mandatory welfare-to-work programs had few impacts on young children. Looking across the six programs and the numerous child outcomes examined, there were few impacts at either the two- and five-year follow-up. Nevertheless, there were more numerous impacts than one would expect due to chance.
  • When young children were affected
    • it was sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Earlier impacts found were slightly more positive than negative; later impacts found were slightly more negative than positive.
    • it was in each of the three child development areas examined. Young children's academic school readiness was favorably affected early on, though impacts on academic functioning three years later were more circumscribed and were concentrated on measures of behavioral adjustment to school (for example, school engagement and disciplinary problems) and attendance. Young children's positive behavior and problem behaviors were affected, positively and negatively, both early and later on. Finally, few impacts were found at either the two- or five-year point on maternal report measures relating to young children's health and safety; however, when found, impacts were negative.
    • it did not vary according to welfare-to-work strategy. In each site, there were very few differences in outcomes for young children whose mothers were in the employment-focused program compared to children whose mothers were in the education-focused program. In addition, the pattern of impacts on young children was similar for both programs in each site. When differences occurred, neither approach emerged as uniformly more or less beneficial to children.
    • it tended to vary according to the site in which the programs were implemented.
      • Favorable impacts occurred in Atlanta. The majority of impacts found in Atlanta, in both the short- and longer-term, regardless of program approach, were favorable. There were very few differences in the impacts on young children according to the welfare-to-work strategy employed in Atlanta. Earlier impacts on young children occurred largely on measures of academic school readiness, and they were all positive, though small. Three years later, impacts of Atlanta's programs in the academic area consisted improvements in reading and reductions in disciplinary problems, though each program also increased absenteeism or tardiness by a moderate amount. The majority of longer-term impacts found related to children's social skills and behavior  both at home and in the classroom  and these impacts were uniformly positive.(12)
      • Unfavorable impacts were found in Grand Rapids. The majority of impacts found in Grand Rapids, in both the short- and longer-term, regardless of program approach, were unfavorable. Grand Rapids employment-focused program decreased positive behaviors (such as cooperation), and Grand Rapids' education-focused program both decreased positive behaviors and increased problem behaviors (including disciplinary problems in school) when children were 8 to 10 years old  despite not having affected behavioral outcomes earlier on.(13)
      • Impacts of Riverside's programs varied by area of development, and differed according to mothers' initial levels education. Neither of Riverside's programs affected behavioral or academic outcomes when children were 5 to 7 years old. However, when Riverside's employment-focused program had impacts in the full sample, it tended to worsen young children's behavior, and both improve and worsen different aspects of academic functioning when they were 8 to 10 years old. Limiting this sample to the subgroup of children whose mothers lacked a high school diploma at study entry, when impacts were found, both programs in Riverside improved children's behavior at the five-year follow-up.(14) In a couple of instances, impacts were moderate in size.(15)