Performance Improvement 1996. Administration for Children and Families


MISSION: To promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals, and communities.

ACF Evaluation Program

ACF administers a broad range of entitlement and discretionary programs including the welfare programs (Aid for Dependent Children [AFDC], Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training [JOBS], Child Support); children and family services (Head Start, Child Welfare, Family Preservation and Support, youth programs, child care); four block grants; and special programs for targeted populations, such as the developmentally disabled and Native Americans.

The objectives of ACF's evaluations are to provide information on the design and operation of effective programs; test new service delivery approaches that build on the success of completed demonstrations; apply evaluation data to policy development, legislative planning, budget decisions, program management, and strategic planning and performance measures development; and disseminate findings of completed studies and promote application of results by State and local governments.

ACF actively engages with other Federal agencies, State and local policy and program officials, national organizations, foundations, professional groups and practitioners, and consumers to stay current on the emerging issues affecting its programs and to identify questions for evaluation studies. Study designs are carefully negotiated with the States and other interest groups. Studies are frequency funded as joint ventures with ASPE and other Federal agencies and foundations. Such collaborations enable efforts that are better informed, more representative of varying perspectives, and larger in scale. Proposals are reviewed by multidisciplinary experts. Work groups of various types are used throughout the projects to monitor progress and to advise on refinements in design and presentation of the findings.

Summary of Fiscal 1995 ACF Evaluations

ACF's evaluations are closely linked to its two strategic goals:

  1. Measurably improve the economic independence and productivity of families by reforming the welfare system and by stimulating the changes in attitude and behavior necessary to achieve results.
  2. Increase the number of children, youth, and families who have improved health, development, and well-being and live in stable communities.

During fiscal 1995, ACF produced 23 evaluation reports on its various programs. Several major evaluations were related to the first goal of "Economic Independence and Productivity of Families." One study focused on increasing participation in work and work-related activities and the lessons learned from welfare reform demonstrations in five States: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Utah, and Vermont. The study identified a number of successful approaches that could be used by other States. The second study, "Something Old, Something New: A Case Study of the Post-Employment Services Demonstration in Oregon," evaluated a demonstration intended to help recently employed persons keep their jobs, help those losing their jobs return to work quickly, and reduce the amount of time spent receiving AFDC.

ACF's Office of Refugee Resettlement looked at its Key States Initiative Program, begun in fiscal 1987, to increase employment and reduce welfare dependency in refugee communities in Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. The study documented program design features, program participant characteristics, program outcomes, and lessons learned from each State.

Ten evaluations important to the goal of "Healthy Development of Children and Families" were completed in fiscal 1995. Three evaluations focused on children in foster care. The first, "Foster Youth Mentors," examined factors characterizing successful relationships between foster youth and older citizen mentors. The findings have been disseminated to independent living programs throughout the United States to facilitate use of mentors in older youths' transitions from foster care. The second study, "Outcomes of Permanency Planning for 1,165 Foster Children," examined foster care programs in San Diego County, California, and Pierce County, Washington. The study found an overrepresentation of minority children and a sizable number of children with mental health, physical health, and behavioral problems, calling for a more culturally sensitive practice in child welfare systems and appropriate services to this population with special health needs. The third study, "Update From the Multi-State Foster Care Data Archive: Foster Care Dynamics 1983-1993," contains foster care career histories for all children in State-supervised substitute care living arrangements. The study found that infants and young children are the fastest growing age groups in the foster care population.

The other seven studies focused on specific ACF program activities. "Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods: A Community-Centered Approach," highlighted in chapter II, is an innovative method of testing services improvement in a distressed urban neighborhood in Linn County, Iowa, modeled on the British patch system of community-centered service delivery. The 3-year demonstration project aimed to overcome categorical barriers that prevent the pooling and use of informal and formal resources needed for flexible services--services building on the strengths of individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

"Youth With Runaway, Throwaway, and Homeless Experiences: Prevalence, Drug Use, and Other At-Risk Behaviors" is a national study that examines substance use, suicide attempts, and other at-risk behaviors, which is also highlighted in chapter II. The findings were drawn from youth living in shelters, on the street, in family households, and from youth shelter directors. The study recommends that services address a continuum of need from primary prevention to intervention and treatment at the community level.

"Child Maltreatment 1993: Reports From the States to the National Center on Child Abuse" found that almost 2 million reports of child abuse and neglect were received by child protective services agencies and referred for investigation in 1993; neglect is the most common type of maltreatment, followed by physical, sexual, medical, and emotional abuse; and 1993 was the first year since 1976 that the rate of reported child abuse and neglect cases did not increase.

"Children on Hold: Improving the Response to Children Whose Parents Are Arrested and Incarcerated" surveyed patrol officers, narcotics officers, child protective services workers, foster care parents, and corrections staff in 100 counties and conducted site visits to four communities selected for their exemplary responses to children whose parents are arrested. The report assesses existing policies, procedures, and practices of child welfare, law enforcement, and local correctional agencies regarding children whose primary caretaker is arrested or incarcerated. It also assesses how well these agencies coordinate with each other in dealing with these families, identifies promising strategies to improve coordination, and assesses statutory enactments and case law regarding the termination of parental rights for incarcerated parents. The report recommends ways in which relevant agencies can improve services to these children. It highlights areas of concern within law enforcement and child protective services agencies and in the interaction of these agencies.

Next, ACF supported two literature review studies. First, the "Study of the Impact on Service Delivery of Family Substance Abuse" reviews research literature from 1986 through 1994, including intensive case studies of the effects of family alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse programs funded by the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF). Child Protective Services, of all ACYF programs, is the most negatively affected by family AOD abuse. AOD abuse affects the mandates of all ACYF programs including accelerated termination of parental rights policies, postadoption and foster placement support programs, and Head Start's services to nonparental caretakers. The second study, "Selected Annotated Bibliography on Youth and Gang Violence Prevention, Community Team Organizing and Training, and Cultural Awareness Curriculums," developed a resource for youth-serving organizations and individuals, researchers, and policymakers concerned with youth issues.

Finally, ACF assessed its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in a report to Congress for fiscal 1993, looking at State and Indian tribal use of funds to provide heating and cooling assistance, energy crisis intervention or assistance, low-cost home weatherization, or other energy-related home repairs. An estimated 5.6 million households received help with heating costs through heating or winter crisis assistance in fiscal 1993. This figure represents 20 percent of the 28.4 million households estimated to have incomes under the maximum income eligibility standard established by the LIHEAP statute. The mean home energy group burden for all eligible households (i.e., the ratio of home energy expenditures to income) was 4.0 percent of income compared with 1.1 percent for all U.S. households. Thirty-eight percent of all LIHEAP recipients received public assistance, and 65 percent received food stamps.

ACF Evaluations in Progress

During fiscal 1995, ACF had 18 evaluation projects in progress. These projects are also linked to ACF's two strategic goals.

Three studies pertinent to the goal of "Economic Independence and Productivity of Families" are examining employment of welfare recipients. The JOBS evaluation, a major long-term study of the processes, impacts, and cost-effectiveness of the JOBS program, is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of alternative strategies for moving welfare recipients to work. Within the past year, the evaluation produced preliminary impacts on employment and welfare receipt at three sites (Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California), providing separate results for program models that are education focused (human capital development) and employment focused (labor force attachment).

The second study, which looks at the Parents' Fair Share (PFS) Demonstration, is testing the effects of requiring unemployed noncustodial fathers of children on AFDC to participate in employment and other services designed to increase their earnings so they can adequately support their children. PFS programs in seven States have developed effective procedures to identify eligible fathers, enroll them into employment services, and enforce regular participation. Preliminary data also show that PFS work and training requirements provide States with a promising mechanism to discover previously unreported income of nonpaying, noncustodial parents; approximately 25 percent of the men in the program had previously unreported income.

The third study, an evaluation of the Oregon Post-Employment Services Demonstration, addresses job loss among newly employed welfare recipients in four sites: Riverside, California; Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; and San Antonio, Texas. Each site furnishes job retention and reemployment services to recently employed JOBS program participants randomly assigned to receive the additional services, regardless of continued AFDC receipt.

Two studies under way address parenthood in welfare families. "Responsible Fatherhood: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations for Policy and Program Development," a joint project with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, is aimed at systematically developing credible information for States and localities about how to encourage and increase responsible conduct among fathers of disadvantaged children. Five community-based organizations are currently operating programs to teach fathers how to understand their children's development and positively affect their children's behavior.

A second study is assessing the effectiveness of the Home Visiting Services Demonstration in Chicago, Illinois; Dayton, Ohio; and Portland, Oregon. This demonstration requires first- time teenage parents on AFDC to participate in the JOBS program. It will test whether adding weekly home visitor services to mandatory JOBS programs will substantially strengthen the effectiveness of JOBS programs in helping young mothers better support themselves and their children while promoting positive parenting and reductions in repeat childbearing.

Two other studies are looking at child support enforcement issues. The first, "Evaluation of Child Support Guidelines," is funded by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OSCE) and evaluates presumptive child support guidelines. The study will assess the impact of shifting from voluntary to presumptive guidelines by using the Current Population Survey--Child Support and Alimony Supplement of 1992 and will examine changes and activities of State Guideline Commissions.

A second OSCE study, the "Evaluation of Child Access Demonstration Projects," assesses demonstration projects in Idaho, Indiana, and Florida set up to test mediation services as a means to assist divorced, separated, and nonmarried parents reach parenting plans, as well as encourage greater involvement by noncustodial parents (usually fathers) with their children after divorce or separation from the custodial parent.

The final report in this group of related studies is titled "Identification and Prevention of Intergenerational AFDC Dependency: Promoting Long-Term Child Welfare." It will examine the causes of intergenerational welfare dependency, looking specifically at the critical age at which girls are most likely to be caught up in the dependency cycle. Factors distinguishing those who break free from dependency compared with those who cannot will be identified.

ACF has nine evaluations related to its second major strategic goal of "Healthy Development of Children and Families." Three of them address various facets of the Head Start program. First, the "Evaluation of the Head Start/Public School Early Childhood Transition Demonstration" is intended to assess the effectiveness of providing comprehensive, continuous, and coordinated services to Head Start families and children from the time of Head Start enrollment through the third grade in public school. The study will provide data on the effectiveness of the transition project models in maintaining the gains that children and families achieve while in Head Start.

A second study, "Evaluation of Head Start Family Child Care (FCC) Homes," will assess the quality of Head Start services provided in FCC homes and determine whether these services meet quality standards, including Head Start program performance standards. It will also compare services delivered in FCC homes with those delivered in Head Start centers.

The third study, a "Descriptive Study of Head Start Bilingual/Multicultural Program Services," will determine the number, geographic distribution, and sociodemographic characteristics of the Head Start eligible population for different cultural and linguistic groups, by region and nationally; will determine the number and nature of bilingual and multicultural children served by Head Start; and will identify the range of bilingual and multicultural services provided by Head Start nationally. The study includes an indepth assessment of service models, staff training approaches, community partnerships, and administrative plans and processes of a sample of 30 Head Start programs that use innovative methods to address the unique program needs of one or more of the diverse cultural and linguistic groups.

Several ACF projects in progress are looking at family protective services. The "National Study of Outcomes for Children Placed in Foster Care With Relatives" is examining the outcomes, including costs, for children and families in various configurations of relative foster care compared with similar configurations of nonrelative foster care. The "Family Preservation and Family Support Services (FP/FS) Implementation Study" will examine how FP/FS program funds for services to strengthen families have been used across States and communities and among different stakeholders. The main component of the study analyzes and synthesizes first-year State applications.

The "National Study of Protective, Preventive, and Reunification Services Delivered to Children and Their Families" will determine the number and percentages of children and families in the child welfare system that receive protective, preventive reunification, out-of-home care, and/or aftercare services. Case record abstracts will be completed on a nationally representative sample of 3,000 children and their families served by public child welfare agencies.

The "Evaluation of Nine Model Comprehensive Community-Based Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Programs" is taking place in three phases over 3 years. Process and impact data are being collected across programs and through a series of studies conducted at each of the nine sites. Because each project has up to 10 service components, many of which vary across programs, a series of experimental designs has been developed for each service component.

ACF also is supporting two studies looking at family services from an international perspective. The "Transfer of International Innovations--Development of a Clinical Monitoring System To Support Foster Care in Michigan" features a computerized system based on a model combining structured and systematic monitoring of each individual child, with the aggregation of this information across the whole agency. Developed and now mandated in Israel, and modified for the U.S. foster care system, the system provides an integrated response to the needs of all partners in the agency, including administrators, managers, and policymakers. A second project is a knowledge transfer project assessing the application of a preteen Bedouin Arab dropout prevention program in a tribal community in the Negev Desert of Southern Israel to the Pascua Yaqui Indian Tribe in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. The assessment will examine the effectiveness of a cooperative community/university model for empowering economically disadvantaged minority communities to respond to the unique needs of their at-risk children.

One ACF evaluation project addresses an important crosscutting issue of children and family services with substance abuse treatment. The "Woman and Infant Nurturing Services (WINGS)" program, designed to counteract the upward spiral of female incarceration and substance abuse, is being assessed. This demonstration project at the Rose M. Singer Correctional Facility, Riker's Island, New York City, targets pregnant, substance-abusing inmates and uses incarceration as a point of treatment intervention. The evaluation will test the effectiveness of a comprehensive service program, including substance abuse treatment, prenatal health and nutritional care, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) education, parenting classes, mental health services, and assistance with entitlement preparation.

New Direction for ACF Evaluation

The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 intensifies ACF's need to work even more closely with States and others to help improve the delivery, organization, and financing of human services to ensure positive impacts for children and families.

In recent years, State-initiated welfare reforms approved through waivers have been accompanied by carefully designed evaluation studies. For example, many States are testing the following: (1) requiring teen parents to attend school or training, (2) requiring minor parents to live at home or in other structured living settings, (3) increasing participation in JOBS, (4) increasing regular applications of larger sanctions for noncooperation with child support and JOBS requirements, and (5) encouraging savings by establishing special purpose accounts. One project described earlier has already provided States with very useful operational lessons on how they have increased participation in employment and training activities.

The law provides for continuation of these studies as well as for the initiation of new studies. For example, an area of current interest concerns the impact that welfare reforms will have on children. Several States have already expressed their interest to work in collaboration with ACF, ASPE, and other agencies to address this and related issues. Efforts are under way to develop measures of child well-being, to explore administrative databases as informational sources for evaluation, to identify methods for measuring outcomes and performance, and to move the field forward to benchmark, measure performance, and track results.