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

07/01/2004

The Child Outcomes Study also sought to determine whether impacts on children varied according to initial levels of family risk.(17) The Family Support Act sought explicitly to reduce long-term welfare dependency by providing the services necessary to move long-term recipients into jobs. Many argued that the opportunities that JOBS provided would be more beneficial for the most disadvantaged participants, thereby improving outcomes for children. Others feared that higher-risk participants might not be able to meet JOBS requirements, would face sanctions, and they and their children would suffer.

As already noted, these programs had few impacts on young children, which was true for children from families at lower initial risk as well as for children from families at higher initial risk. When impacts on children were found at the two-year point, they tended to be favorable for children in higher-risk families (in four programs)(18) and unfavorable for children in lower-risk families (in three programs).(19) In fact, some of the largest impacts on young children to occur at the two-year point were among these unfavorable impacts for children in lower-risk families assigned to one of these three programs.

At the five-year point, only programs in Riverside showed a pattern of favorable impacts on children of more disadvantaged mothers (i.e., those who lacked a high school diploma at study entry), serving to improve behavior. At the same time, however, Riverside's employment-focused program continued to have unfavorable effects on children in lower-risk families: This program lowered the academic performance, lessened school engagement, and increased problem behaviors of children of the "least disadvantaged" mothers.(20) In addition, at the five-year point, there emerged a concentration of unfavorable impacts on children of the least disadvantaged mothers in the Atlanta LFA program.(21) These impacts were not widespread, however, but they did include unfavorable impacts on academic progress and placement, a decline in positive behaviors, and an increased likelihood of needing but not receiving special services.