Moving People from Welfare to Work. Lessons from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies.. Children's Well-Being: How might programs that have mandates and services but leave income unchanged affect children in the long run?


During the two decades before FSA's passage, mothers receiving welfare who had children under age 6 were generally not subject to the participation and work requirements of welfare-to-work programs. With FSA's passage came the advent of mandatory participation in welfare-to-work activities for mothers with young children. Because the new mandate's implications for young children caused considerable concern in the early 1990s, the children in NEWWS who were preschool-aged at the time of random assignment were examined especially closely. The well-being of children of other ages was also examined in NEWWS. The passage of PRWORA, which imposed participation mandates on mothers with children as young as age 1 (or even younger, at states' option), renewed concern about the effects of welfare reform on children. The NEWWS findings suggest the following conclusions.

  • Programs with mandates and services that also leave income unchanged have relatively few effects on young children.

In a group of children who were preschool-aged at study entry and were studied in depth, the well-being of program group children differed from that of control group children on only a small number of measures. At the two-year follow-up point, the few impacts found occurred predominantly in the area of cognitive functioning, with some programs improving these outcomes. The impacts did not persist, however, through the later years of the follow-up period. At five years, the few impacts on young children were largely in the area of social skills and behavior (such as being sensitive to others, making friends, and fighting or arguing with others). Overall, the impacts were not consistently favorable or unfavorable -- that is, they were favorable for some programs and unfavorable for others -- and varied in size. Very few impacts were found on measures of children's health or safety at two years or five years, although most of those found were unfavorable.

  • Effects on child care use -- one important route by which young children might be affected by welfare-to-work programs -- closely mirror the programs' effects on employment.

As noted earlier, program and control group members in NEWWS were eligible for similar child care benefits while they worked or participated in work-related activities. But program group members' greater participation in work-related activities and their higher employment levels were expected to create a greater need for child care. As the NEWWS programs' impacts on employment diminished over the follow-up period, so did their effects on use of child care. During the first two years, the majority of the programs produced moderate to large increases in child care use. But by the end of the five years, only the Portland program was still elevating use of child care relative to the control group level. Notably, about half of the NEWWS programs increased use of transitional child care (available to recipients for up to one year after they leave welfare), largely because they increased both the number of people leaving welfare for work and the number of people who actually received this benefit once they became eligible for it.

  • Programs with mandates and services that also leave income unchanged have few effects on school-aged or very young children; the effects on adolescents, however, are likely to be unfavorable.

For children who at study entry were under 3 or over 5, whose outcomes were measured in NEWWS using a more limited set of measures than were preschool-aged children's outcomes, few impacts on well-being were found. Some impacts, however, were found on academic outcomes (such as grade repetition, dropping out of school, and being suspended or expelled from school) for children who were adolescents at study entry. Although these impacts were found in only about half of the programs for which data were available, they were predominantly unfavorable. In Riverside, for example, about 4 percent of adolescent children of control group members had ever repeated a grade in school; both programs there increased this rate by 3 to 4 percentage points. Adolescents' academic functioning may have been especially vulnerable to the employment gains and income losses found for mothers of adolescents in several of the programs.

  • Effects on children do not appear to depend on whether welfare-to-work programs are employment-focused or education-focused.

Some early proponents of education-focused welfare-to-work programs hypothesized that such programs might benefit children more than employment-focused ones because parents who attended education or training classes would become more involved in their children's schoolwork and serve as role models for succeeding in school. This hope was not realized in the NEWWS programs. The impacts on children -- whether the young children studied in depth or the children of all ages studied using a more limited set of measures -- did not vary according to whether the programs had an employment focus or an education focus. Both types of programs had few effects on children.