Impacts on Young Children and Their Families Two Years After Enrollment: Summary Report. JOBS Welfare-to-Work Programs


What were the key components present in JOBS welfare-to-work programs?

The programs implemented under JOBS had four key components: (A) mandated participation in education, training, and/or employment activities; (B) messages about the importance of such activities; (C) enhanced case management services to direct and monitor clients' progress; and (D) services to facilitate employment.

All families, whether they had been randomly assigned to one of the JOBS program groups or to a control group, received AFDC benefits. Families assigned to the program as well as control group members were also eligible for child care subsidies and for Medicaid while receiving AFDC and for a year following a transition off of AFDC and into employment ("transitional benefits"). Control group members were eligible for child care assistance, similar to that offered to program group members, if they were participating in work preparation activities in which they had enrolled on their own.

However, only the families assigned to one of the JOBS program groups were exposed to the four key program components:

A.  Mandated Participation

Participation in approved activities to enhance economic self-sufficiency was mandatory. Failure to participate in approved activities could result in sanctioning (i.e., a reduction in welfare benefits). The activities emphasized, and the sequencing of activities, differed in the labor force attachment and human capital development programs.

Clients in labor force attachment programs were first assigned to "job club," which emphasized learning how to find a job through classroom instruction and experiential activities such as phoning employers to set up interviews. After three to five weeks, clients who had not secured employment either continued their job search, were assigned to basic education, or received short-term training.

Depending on their educational level and work history, clients in human capital development programs participated either in a basic education program, for example, a high school completion program, or a General Educational Development (GED) program, or in vocational training or college. If they did not find employment upon completion of their first activity, it was intended that they enroll in job club, individual job searches, on-the-job training or other work experiences, or go on to obtain additional education or vocational training.

B.  Messages

Messages provided to clients in the labor force attachment programs (at orientation and through case management) emphasized finding a job quickly. Messages provided to clients in the human capital development programs emphasized building skills in order to find "better" jobs. In addition, while both control group and program group mothers were provided information about child care (which, as described below, in specific sites, included suggestions about the type of child care to use), program mothers may well have had greater exposure to these messages to the extent that enhanced case management put them in greater contact with their case managers.

C.  Enhanced Case Management Services

Clients worked with a case manager to develop a plan for progressing toward economic self-sufficiency. Client and case manager then together monitored progress in light of this plan. And while both control group and program group mothers were entitled to child care services, program mothers  by virtue of receiving enhanced case management and, thus, greater opportunities for more frequent interactions with their case manager  may have a received more sustained assistance in securing child care.

D.  Services to Facilitate Employment

The messages and sequence of activities in the labor force attachment and human capital development programs differed, but both emphasized finding employment and both included services, such as job club and job search, to facilitate a transition to employment.

Did JOBS programs differ across sites?

States had latitude in the implementation of their JOBS programs within the framework of these key components. Accordingly, the sites in this study varied in their orientation and in how they implemented their JOBS programs. These differences are documented in detail in a discussion of program practices and characteristics in the three sites (Hamilton, Brock, Farrell, Friedlander, and Harknett, 1997). What follows is a brief summary of key differences.

  • In Atlanta, case managers had relatively small caseloads, and they tended to see their role as supportive, actively seeking out services for clients. Even though the labor force attachment and human capital development programs in Atlanta were clearly distinct, case managers in Atlanta more than the other sites tended to give messages to participants in both programs emphasizing the importance of skills and education (human capital development-oriented messages), perhaps due to their experience running human capital development-type programs. They also tended to be somewhat ambivalent about imposing financial sanctions. Nevertheless, sanction rates in Atlanta were fairly high. In Atlanta, families were free to choose among child care options (unlicenced provider in a home setting, licensed provider in a home setting, or child care center), but were reimbursed only for licensed care, and were encouraged to use center-based care, on the grounds that such care was of better quality and more reliable. Assistance in securing and paying for child care was also promoted as a benefit of participating in JOBS.
  • Grand Rapids' human capital development program was unique in its up-front, in-depth assessment of clients' needs. However, caseloads were relatively high, making it difficult to give personal attention and encouragement in either program. A greater emphasis was placed on monitoring client participation and imposing financial sanctions for noncompliance. Clients in Grand Rapids were not encouraged to use one form of child care over another and case workers did not actively promote assistance with child care as a benefit of participating in JOBS.
  • In Riverside, the welfare agency had extensive experience and success in running labor force attachment-type programs. Thus, while the labor force attachment and human capital development programs in Riverside were distinctly different, in general, case managers tended to emphasize to clients in both programs the importance of a quick transition to the labor force. Despite moderate to large caseloads, Riverside case managers were held responsible for the educational and employment outcomes of their clients. Case managers closely monitored clients' progress, and they encouraged clients to succeed in their assigned activities. In addition, while staff did not hesitate to enforce participation requirements, clients were afforded many opportunities to come into compliance before financial sanctions took effect. Clients in Riverside were encouraged to use informal child care arrangements, in part because such care involved lower reimbursement rates, but also because it was felt that many clients preferred to leave children with friends or family members. In the Riverside site, though not the other sites, the human capital development program was only available for recipients considered in need of basic education (with no high school diploma or GED, non-English speakers, or those with low scores on baseline literacy or math test scores).(7)

In light of these program variations, we use the term "program" in reference to one of the six specific programs implemented in the three study sites, reserving the phrase "the JOBS Program" only when discussing the federally mandated welfare-to-work program authorized in the Family Support Act. We use the term "program approach" to refer to the human capital development and the labor force attachment welfare-to-work strategies. In order to take the local variation in programming into account, we report on the impacts of each program approach (labor force attachment and human capital development) for each of the research sites separately. Comparing and contrasting the results from each of the three sites gives us a picture of the range of impacts on children of their mothers' assignment to human capital development and labor force attachment program approaches as implemented in different locations, and with somewhat different emphases. It also directs us to consider different participant characteristics in each site and differences in the local job markets when interpreting program impacts.

What was the extent of mothers' exposure to JOBS programs?

Assignment to a labor force attachment or human capital development program under JOBS did significantly increase participation in appropriate activities for mothers in the Child Outcomes Study sample. Thus, mandatory participation requirements (combined with the JOBS programs' messages, case management, and services), affected participation even among mothers with preschool-age children.

Yet the duration of program exposure was generally not long. This is actually in keeping with program goals. If participation in such activities as job search or basic education had occurred for all or even most of the months of the two-year follow-up period, this would indicate that in this time frame, mothers were not progressing off welfare and to employment  the actual goals of the programs. In the Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and Riverside sites, in the full evaluation sample, the average duration of participation (among those who participated for at least a day following baseline), ranged from about 3 to 6 months of the two-year follow-up period in the labor force attachment programs, and about 6 to 9 months in the human capital development programs (Hamilton et al., 1997).

In considering the occurrence and magnitude of program impacts of JOBS on children, it is important to keep in mind that exposure to JOBS programs, first, was generally much shorter than the periods of exposure often studied in evaluations of early childhood care and education programs (see Barnett, 1995); and, second, for the most part involved the direct exposure to the programs of mothers, not children. There were no program components like early childhood intervention addressed directly to the children. Thus, any impacts on children should be seen as transmitted through changes in family life brought about by mothers' assignment and exposure to JOBS programs. These would include increases in the use of child care arrangements.

Figure SR-1 reflects this understanding of how JOBS, a set of programs directed to mothers, could have affected children. The conceptual framework that is illustrated notes how:

  • assignment to a JOBS program (A), could affect:
  • mothers' exposure to, and experiences in, the JOBS program as the program was actually implemented (B);
  • and, through program exposure, could affect (C): outcomes directly targeted by the JOBS program (such as maternal educational attainment, employment, and economic resources), and outcomes derivative of these targeted outcomes (such as use of child care and access to health insurance);
  • as well as (D): further outcomes not directly targeted by JOBS programs (such as maternal psychological well-being, and parenting);
  • and through changes in these aspects of family life and children's child care situations, affect child outcomes (E).

  Figure SR-1. Conceptual Framework.

We turn now to a summary of the findings. The findings are presented in three sections. Section V summarizes results for the children in the sample: first, how children in the control groups were doing in the absence of JOBS program influences, and second, whether the JOBS programs altered this course of development. Section VI follows the same sequence regarding families, first asking how control group families were progressing in the absence of program influences, and then whether the JOBS programs had affected family life. Section VII reports findings regarding the linkages between program impacts on families and children, asking which aspects of family life help to explain selected findings regarding program impacts on children. A final section, Section VIII, summarizes the findings and discuss their implications.