In addition to the activities outlined above, work first programs generally offer support services to participants. The most common of these are child care and transportation assistance. The supports enable parents to participate in the program and help them succeed in the transition to employment. This section discusses some policy options regarding support services. (For suggestions on how program staff can help participants make the most of available supports, see section 35.)
Without child care, many parents will not be able to participate in a work first program. Child care needs may be more urgent in work first than in other welfare-to-work approaches because of high hours requirements and because of the push to get parents participating quickly. Programs aiming for broad participation should therefore ensure that child care is available and affordable for all those who need it. Conversely, programs that cannot or do not provide adequate child care assistance will need to limit participation requirements accordingly. Policy decisions must also be made regarding the types of care that will be funded, the method of payment, and the level of assistance the program will give parents in locating care. In some programs, child care subsidies remain available after participants leave welfare for work, to ease the transition and help make work pay (see section 37 for more on transitional benefits). Program planners might also wish to consider providing child care assistance to those at risk of coming on welfare, if that assistance can help them remain self-sufficient.
Many child care arrangements are unstable, and breakdowns in child care can force parents to make new arrangements. Also, as parents move through the program-for example, from job search to training to employment-their child care needs may change. Child care assistance needs to be flexible enough to accommodate such changes without disrupting participation. Some programs provide on-site drop-in child care for parents to use when meeting with program staff or participating in program activities. Program administrators can similarly encourage outside service providers to co-locate child care with activities. Such co-location can facilitate program participation and give parents an opportunity to see for themselves how a child care center operates. However, parents will still need to identify longer-term child care arrangements when they begin work. The move into work will be smoothest if parents already have stable child care arrangements in place.
The cost and availability of child care vary by the type of arrangement and the age of the child. Child care provided by licensed child care centers tends to be the most expensive type of care, followed by regulated family day care (care provided for a small group of children in the caregiver's home) and then by informal day care (care typically provided by friends or relatives). Infant and toddler care tends to be more expensive than care for older children. In addition, there are commonly shortages of infant care, care for children with special needs, and after-hours child care. A program's participation requirements will affect child care needs and costs. For example, exempting parents with very young children from program participation minimizes the need for infant care. Demand for child care can also be reduced by coordinating participation or employment with school hours, to the extent possible. (See sections 21 and 22 for more on child care costs.)
Most programs provide transportation assistance to participants so that they can attend program activities and look for a job. This may be in the form of passes for public transportation or mileage reimbursement for a participant's own vehicle. Passes or reimbursement can be distributed either by work first staff or by service providers, and on a monthly or more frequent basis. The more frequent the distribution, the more closely participation can be monitored. Many programs have also increased the permitted value of participants' vehicles so that they can have more reliable transportation. Helping participants to get a driver's license or to clear driving violations, or providing assistance for car repair, can also keep clients mobile.
Some programs offer private van or bus service to program activities, particularly if public transportation is limited. Because of the need for participants not only to attend program activities but also to go out and look for jobs where those jobs are located-which may not be near public transportation routes-work first programs may need to deal creatively with transportation problems. For example, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, uses both program vans and volunteer drivers with their own vehicles to transport participants to interviews, training programs, job search classes, and employment (for the first few weeks, until permanent transportation has been arranged). While such a strategy can facilitate job search and increase participation rates in program activities, participants will still need to arrange their own transportation once they get a job.
Other Support Services
Many programs provide assistance to participants in other areas, such as work clothes, tools or other equipment, and books. Clothing assistance may take the form of a clothes closet with clothing that participants can use for interviews or a job, or of vouchers to a local thrift shop or clothing store. Some programs give participants a flat "participation allowance" to cover any job search or work-related costs.