Status Report on Research on the Outcomes of Welfare Reform, 2001. Family Formation


Our strategy in the family formation area is to better understand family structure and functioning. In particular there is increased emphasis on fertility, family composition and well-being, including poverty and health insurance status. While there are encouraging indications that trends in these areas are improving, there remain reasons for concern. For example, the incidence of out-of-wedlock childbearing and the rates of child poverty and uninsurance are still high. We started last year looking more at the impact of welfare reform on marriage and its impact on the living arrangements of children. We will also continue to focus on looking at how parents are fulfilling their economic and emotional responsibilities to their families. The following new projects and continuation efforts are included in our FY 2001 plan:

Describing State Initiatives to Promote and Support Marriage

One of the stated goals of TANF is to "end the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage." While researchers and policy makers have focused substantial attention on increasing labor market participation among TANF recipients and the caseload declines that have followed, there has been far less focus on efforts to promote marriage. This proposed project will examine efforts at the state and local level specifically aimed at promoting and supporting marriage. The project would begin by taking an inventory of state and local policies and programs that promote and support marriage, looking at those programs associated with TANF as well as other programs. This information will be gathered through a variety of information sources, including list-serves such as Smartmarriages, a survey of existing documentation at the state and local level, and interviewers with key people knowledgeable about policy developments around the country related to marriage. The second aspect of the project will be a literature review of recent findings on the effects of marriage from sources such as Linda Wait's "The Case for Marriage." This literature will focus not only on the findings, but also on the methodological strengths and limitations of the research.

Synthesis of Literature on Family Composition and Resource Sharing

Welfare reform's effects on family formation and composition as well as how such changes can affect the financial resources and material well-being of members of low-income households are issues of strong interest to policy makers. Through a literature review, this project will document what is currently known about the effects of welfare policies on family formation and resource sharing. The review will provide an overview of existing research across disciplines (e.g. anthropology, sociology and economics). The study will also summarize key data sources on this issue (e.g., SIPP, CPS, NLSY, SPD, National Survey of America's Families, National Survey of Family Growth) and their strengths and weaknesses for investigating family composition and household resource and well-being issues.

Follow-up Work on Minnesota Family Investment Program Evaluation

Recently released findings based upon a small sample from the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation's (MDRC) evaluation of the Minnesota Family Investment Program suggest that the program had significant positive impacts on the marital stability of two-parent families. MDRC plans to conduct a follow-up study of all two-parent recipient families in the sample to determine if the robustness of their findings can be replicated in the larger sample. This work is a necessary first step before a decision is made about conducting a longer-term follow-up analysis of well-being outcomes for these families. Initially, ASPE will fund the first step of this MFIP follow-up work - the testing of the marital stability finding for a larger sample. If the original findings hold up for the larger sample, the balance of the funds will be committed to partially fund measurement of longer-term, well-being outcomes under MFIP. MDRC is also seeking other funders for this work.

Learning from State Corrections and Human Services Collaborations:
From Prison to Home – Part II

ASPE has begun work looking at families and children that are affected by the high rates of incarceration in some low-income communities. This project, which builds on the "From Prisons to Home: The Effect of Incarceration on Children, Families, and Low-Income Communities" project funded in FY 2000, will provide essential information about the issues for and choices made by states as they implemented cross-cutting strategies that involve criminal justice and health and human services systems in their work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. Many of these families are current or former welfare recipients. A State Symposium will be held in the Summer of 2001, bringing together the collaborating agency heads and other key stakeholders from selected states to obtain information on both the development and implementation phases of these State efforts. Key areas to be explored are resource needs, identifying barriers, partnership building, and implementation lessons. National organizations, such as the National Governors' Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, and other federal and private sector representatives will also be invited to the Symposium.

Case Studies of State Initiatives to Reduce Out-of-Wedlock Births

Between fiscal years 1999 and 2002, HHS will have made up to $400 million in awards for the Bonus to Reward Decrease in Illegitimacy Ratio, a provision of PRWORA. Yet, as reauthorization approaches, questions are arising as to whether changes are needed to make this provision a more effective tool for reducing out-of-wedlock births. The project will gather information from a sample of states to learn more about what programs aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock births were in operation before and after the bonus, and about what factors encouraged development of state initiatives to reduce out-of-wedlock births, including competition for and receipt of the "Illegitimacy Bonus." This information will be gathered through phone interviews of state policy makers and stakeholders, existing documentation on programs, budgets and government policies, and interviews with key people knowledgeable about state developments in family policy.

Partners for Fragile Families Evaluation

The Partners for Fragile Families demonstrations are designed to help young unwed parents by helping fathers to work with the mothers in sharing the legal, financial, and emotional responsibilities of parenthood. HHS approved ten state waivers for the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration projects. Working at the community level with non-profit and faith-based partners to provide employment, health, and social services, these projects will test new approaches to involving young fathers with their children and to helping mothers and fathers build stronger parenting partnerships. The evaluation has three broad purposes: to increase knowledge about systems change; to build knowledge about program operations and delivery of services to fragile families; and to describe client behavior. A process and outcome evaluation will be conducted by interviewing all service providers, including child support enforcement, community based organizations, and partner agencies; and by analyzing client data and surveys. An optional ethnographic study will be included in the RFP. This project is jointly supported by ASPE and the Office of Child Support Enforcement.