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 Site

07/01/2004

Even though the Family Support Act provided clear guidance on the kinds of education-focused and employment-focused services that all JOBS programs had to provide, it also gave states wide latitude in designing and implementing their programs. As a result, states' JOBS programs varied widely. In addition, the sites in which these programs were implemented varied  geographically, economically, demographically, and in the policies, practices, and ethos of the local welfare office. And, interestingly, program impacts on children varied more by site than by program approach. In fact, the same program approach  the employment-focused approach  produced favorable impacts on school-age children in one site (Atlanta) and unfavorable impacts on school-age children in another site (Grand Rapids). It may be that the relatively large caseload per case worker in Grand Rapids made it more difficult to give personal attention to clients, whereas the smaller caseloads in Atlanta, along with this site's "customer-oriented" approach to case management, facilitated greater personal attention to clients. Such attention, coupled with JOBS program services, may have amounted to a more positive experience for program mothers in Atlanta than program mothers in Grand Rapids, spilling over positively to their children.

It is also possible that the different pattern of impacts on children in Atlanta and Grand Rapids is related to differences in these sites' caseload characteristics. The Child Outcomes Study was the first to note a pattern of unfavorable impacts on children in lower-risk families  a pattern that has since been found in other welfare evaluations.(22) Child Outcomes Study families in Grand Rapids may have been less disadvantaged at study entry, on average, than Child Outcomes Study families in Atlanta. For example, compared to their counterparts in the Atlanta site at study entry, mothers in the Grand Rapids site were less likely to have three or more children, less likely to be living in public or subsidized housing, more likely to have ever been married, more likely to have "higher" literacy, and were more likely to have had earnings in the past 12 months. Though the mechanisms are not yet clear, it would appear that the context in which Atlanta's and Grand Rapids' employment-focused programs were implemented helped to shape impacts on children.