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

07/01/2004

Policy makers and others have expressed an interest in how children may be affected by mandatory welfare-to-work programs. Though superceded in 1996 by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (or JOBS) Program shares the current goal of replacing welfare with work. It also contained many of the elements  such as work requirements and sanctions for non-compliance  still operating in welfare-to-work programs today. This brief presents findings from the Child Outcomes Study, a substudy of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (NEWWS),(1) which examined the impacts of 11 JOBS programs in seven sites across the country.(2)

In three of these sites, the Child Outcomes Study looked at the long-term impacts of two alternative pre-employment strategies  employment-focused and education-focused  on children ages 3 to 5 at the start of the study. It sought to determine whether one approach was more or less beneficial than the other for children's development. Because these programs did not provide services aimed at improving the development and well-being of children  as in early childhood education programs  any impacts on children would likely result from their mothers' exposure to the program (for example, self-sufficiency messages from case managers) and from program-induced changes in maternal education, employment, and/or family income. Three general areas of child development were studied  cognitive development and academic functioning, social skills and behavior, and health and safety.

Overall, there were few impacts of the six JOBS programs studied when children were of elementary school age. When found, impacts on cognitive outcomes were favorable early on but faded over time; impacts on behavioral outcomes were both favorable and unfavorable both early and later on, and impacts on health outcomes were unfavorable, both early and later on. Of particular interest was the finding that impacts on young children did not vary according to the type of welfare-to-work strategy used but, rather, tended to vary more according to the site in which the program was implemented. Researchers conclude that impacts on outcomes important to children  such as stable maternal employment, adequate family income, and supportive environments  were too few, occurred for too brief a period, or were of an insufficient magnitude to lead to large, widespread impacts on elementary school-age children. They also emphasize that even when favorably affected by these programs, young children still remained at risk for problem outcomes, especially pertaining to academic achievement and school progress.