As we seek to understand the effects on families of the 1996 welfare reform law, we can build on the foundation of a rigorous evaluation study focusing on the effects on families of welfare-to-work programs implemented under the previous welfare law, the Family Support Act of 1988. The National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies (the NEWWS, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education) is evaluating the impact of a set of welfare-to-work programs operated under "JOBS" (the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program). A pioneering feature of this national evaluation is that it simultaneously considers program impacts on adult economic outcomes and on the development and well-being of the children in the families.
This summary report presents a summary of findings from one of a set of three complementary reports from the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies' two-year follow-up (with results from a further follow-up, completed five years after families enrolled, to be presented in the future). We focus in the present summary report on the findings related to impacts on children, reporting results from a special component of the evaluation, the Child Outcomes Study (see McGroder, Zaslow, Moore and LeMenestrel, 2000, for a detailed presentation of findings). This component of the evaluation focuses in depth on children's development and well-being for a sample of families with young (preschool-age) children at the start of the evaluation, drawn from three of the evaluation's seven research sites. A second report in this series focuses primarily on economic impacts in all seven of the evaluation's research sites, with a more limited examination of impacts on children of all ages (Freedman, Friedlander, Hamilton, Rock, Mitchell, Nudelman, Schweder, and Storto, 2000). A third report draws together findings on children from the in-depth look at young children in the Child Outcomes Study, and brief markers of well-being collected regarding children of all ages in families in the full evaluation sample (Hamilton, with Freedman and McGroder, 2000).
The Child Outcomes Study of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies examines the impacts on both the parental and child generations of two distinct approaches to welfare reform implemented as part of the federal JOBS Program: a labor force attachment approach (emphasizing a rapid transition to employment), and a human capital development approach (emphasizing a longer-term strategy of education and training in order to obtain a better job). These strategies are precursors of the welfare reform programs now being implemented under the 1996 welfare law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). The labor force attachment approach under JOBS is especially germane because of its emphasis on moving clients quickly into employment, the clear priority of new policies. However, the human capital development approach may provide an informative model for states as caseloads drop, and those families remaining on welfare face more barriers to employment (such as low literacy or limited education).
Although welfare policies were initiated many years ago with the aim of protecting children in poor families, most of the evaluation research concerning these policies has focused on adult economic outcomes. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the most clearly targeted outcomes of these programs have been economic. The Family Support Act explicitly stated as its goal the reduction of long-term welfare dependency. Further, this law did not call for services aimed directly at enhancing the development of children (such as early childhood educational intervention, or developmental screening); rather authorized services focused on increasing adult employment.
Nevertheless, a mother's assignment to a welfare-to-work program has the potential to affect the development of children, for example, by affecting the material resources available within the family, and by affecting children's experiences of care both within and outside of the home. The Child Outcomes Study of the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies examines whether children can be affected by their mothers' assignment to a welfare-to-work program, how their development and well-being are affected (favorably or unfavorably), if at all, and in what ways any impacts on children come about.
The Child Outcomes Study uses a rigorous experimental design. Two years after mothers were randomly assigned to one of the two JOBS welfare-to-work strategies or to a control group, outcomes for children (at that point between about 5 and 7 years of age) were examined. The children's cognitive development and academic achievement were measured through a combination of direct assessment (an assessment of the children's cognitive school readiness) and maternal report (for example, mothers' reports of academic problems). The children's behavioral and emotional adjustment were measured through maternal report (for example, using measures of the child's behavior problems and positive social behaviors). The children's health and safety were also measured through maternal report (for example, using an interview measure indicating whether the child has had an accident, injury or poisoning requiring emergency medical attention; an interview measure widely used in national surveys in which the mother indicates whether she sees the child's overall health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor). Validation work indicates that the global health rating reflects primarily physical health problems (Krause and Jay, 1994).In general, all measures selected for use in the Child Outcomes Study have demonstrated sufficient validity and reliability (Bracken, 1984; Polit, 1996; Zill, 1985; Peterson and ZILL, 1986)
In addition to examining mean scores on measures of cognitive school readiness, problem and positive behavior, and overall health, we also examined program impacts on the proportion of children with extreme scores on these measures in the interest of ascertaining whether JOBS welfare-to-work programs changed the distribution of children's outcomes — for example, reducing the proportion at the "unfavorable" end and/or increasing the proportion at the "favorable" end — which is possible even if the programs had no impacts on mean scores. Thus, in some cases a single response to a survey question can give rise to two or more impacts (e.g., one relating to the mean and one relating to the distribution).
The Child Outcomes Study was conducted in three sites: Atlanta, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Riverside, California. Families enrolled in the evaluation between September 1991 and January 1994. Data collection for the two-year follow-up was completed in January 1996, prior to the implementation of the new welfare law. Findings from this study must be seen in light of the fact that mothers were exempt from participation in JOBS welfare-to-work activities if they were needed at home to care for an ill or incapacitated family member, including a child. As a result, children with a health condition requiring such care were not included in the evaluation. The 1996 welfare law no longer provides an explicit exemption for a mother with an ill or incapacitated child.
In this experimental evaluation, mothers randomly assigned to a control group in each of the study sites were eligible for all welfare benefits. However, they did not receive the special messages and case management of a JOBS program, they were not mandated to participate in JOBS program activities, and they did not have access to the particular work preparation activities through JOBS. Control group members were eligible for child care assistance, similar to that offered to program group members, if they were participating in work preparation activities in which they had enrolled on their own. (author abstract)