For a work first program to succeed, participants must be able to attend program activities and look for work. In the JOBS Evaluation, between 77 and 84 percent of new JOBS enrollees in four sites reported facing at least one of seven listed barriers to participation. The most common barrier cited-by between 58 and 72 percent of enrollees-was the inability to afford child care. Between 30 and 40 percent of enrollees reported facing transportation problems. Work first programs generally provide supports for child care and transportation needs. Section 7 discussed policy issues related to child care and transportation. This section offers advice for facilitating the provision of these support services, thereby increasing participation and helping participants succeed in obtaining employment.
- Provide information about child care options. As they enter the program, give participants detailed information about child care benefits and options. Brochures, posters, checklists, and videotapes are all useful tools. Materials should be attractive, engaging, and accessible to participants who have low reading levels or whose first language is not English. Individual work first offices may also want to compile lists of child care providers in their area. The lists should include hours of operation, location, special training of staff-including the ability to serve children with special needs-and registration instructions. Local resource and referral agencies can provide this information, so that work first offices are not re-creating the wheel. Written materials should supplement, but not replace, information received from staff members. Participants should also know where they can turn for more information or assistance.
- Help participants quickly arrange care while giving adequate time as needed. Case managers can help participants locate child care by providing information, such as the provider lists described above. Coordinating with a local child care resource and referral agency can also facilitate child care arrangements. At the same time, parents need sufficient time to visit providers and make an informed decision about a child care setting before placing their children in care. Forcing a hasty choice increases the risk of later problems, which could disrupt program participation or employment. Once care has been located, case managers can help expedite the processing of child care payments so that participants can begin work first as soon as possible.
- Help participants make an informed decision about child care. Pamphlets, checklists, or videos about the criteria for high-quality child care can help parents make this choice. Materials about child care are most helpful when they offer specific, objective information about all forms of child care, including center-based care, regulated family day care, and informal arrangements with relatives or friends. The process of finding and choosing child care can also help participants increase their skills and self-confidence in preparation for job search.
- Understand participants' child care needs. In helping parents arrange for child care, staff should understand the family's specific child care needs, preferences, and constraints, such as lack of transportation or complex family schedules. Help parents think through the advantages and limitations of available options, in order to choose care that will work best for their situation.
- Help participants identify reliable child care arrangements. Problems resulting from unreliable child care can disrupt job search and employment. Case managers should discuss with participants the reliability of their child care arrangements, especially when they plan to use informal care. Participants should have backup arrangements, such as a drop-in center or a relative, to which they can turn should their principal arrangements fall through.
- Talk through child care concerns. If parents are apprehensive about leaving their children in child care, they experience stress and their motivation is undermined. Case managers or child care specialists can alleviate any concerns by talking through these issues with parents and helping them find high-quality care that they trust.
- Provide ongoing support. Parents who have ongoing access to information and counseling can draw on that support to work through any child care problems that arise. Programs may want to designate a specialized staff person, who is knowledgeable about child care and understands the child care issues confronted by participants, as a contact for child care information and assistance. In addition, programs can avoid disruptions in participation by helping parents to anticipate changes in child care arrangements that may be needed as they move through the program (for example, if their hours of participation change).
- Inform participants about transportation assistance and help them take advantage of it. Most programs offer bus passes, mileage reimbursement, help with car repairs, or other forms of assistance with transportation. Case managers can educate participants about the availability of assistance, help them assemble any required documentation, and facilitate the processing of transportation benefits.
- Help participants think creatively about transportation alternatives. Participants without their own vehicle or ready access to public transportation will need to identify alternative means. For example, participants can form carpools with other participants who live near them. Case managers in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, encourage participants who have found jobs to join carpools or to pay another employee for a ride. Helping participants get a valid driver's license or clear driving violations can also keep them mobile.
- Help participants identify backup arrangements. Unexpected problems with transportation can cause participants to miss appointments or even lose a job. Case managers can help participants identify backup alternatives that they can use if their regular transportation falls through.