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Social Work Research: Program Evaluation

Major federal legislation was enacted in 1996 related to welfare  reform. Financial assistance programs at the national level for  low-income families have been in place since the mid-1960s through the  Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The Personal  Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, or  welfare reform, created TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).  Major components of the new TANF program were to limit new recipients of  cash aid to no more than 2 years of TANF assistance at a time and to  receive no more than 5 years of combined TANF assistance with other  service programs during their lifetimes. The goal was to make public  assistance a temporary, rather than a long-term, program for families  with children. Beyond these general rules, each of the 50 states was  given substantial latitude to adopt requirements to fit their own  objectives. The new law also allowed states that reduced their public  assistance expenses to keep whatever support was already being provided  by the federal government for use at their own discretion. This was seen  as a way to encourage states to reduce welfare dependency.

In response, the state of California decided to call its new program  CalWORKs, the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids  program. CalWORKs is California’s application of the new TANF federal  law. Like most of the other states, CalWORKs provided its 58 counties  with a fair amount of discretion in how to implement the new provisions.  Some counties chose to develop strong upfront “employment-first” rules  that mandated recipients be employed as soon as possible. Others chose a  response that included testing and assessment and the provision of  education and training services.

One of the largest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area developed  several options for CalWORKs recipients, including immediate job  readiness (Job Club) help, remedial education for recipients lacking  basic skills, and vocational training at local community colleges and  adult education centers for those seeking higher level education and  skills. Recipients could take up to 5 years to complete these activities  and even longer in certain circumstances to maximize their chances of  success. Recipients were predominantly single mothers. If recipients  fully complied with the rules, they received a variety of financial  incentives, while those who did not comply received sanctions that often  resulted in reduced benefit levels. The county provided grants to a  wide array of education, training, and service programs to work as  partners in serving the needs of participants.

In 1996, the county’s CalWORKs program enrolled approximately 22,000  families in various forms of public assistance programs. Of these,  approximately 10,000 elected to participate in one of the education and  training programs, 9,000 elected to attend intensive job placement (Job  Club) classes, and the remaining 3,000 opted to not comply with the new  program and accepted reduced benefit sanctions.

To meet its state and federal mandates, the county carefully tracked  the progress of all program participants and compiled comprehensive  quarterly reports that summarized assignments and outcomes at each of  the contracted partner sites as well as countywide trends. During the  first 11 years of the program, from 1996 through 2007, the county’s  public assistance roles were reduced by approximately 40%, from more  than 22,000 to about 13,000 families. The best results were obtained  among participants in education and training programs, who accounted for  about two-thirds of long-term outcome success, although this group was  also found to be more costly to the local CalWORKs program during their  years of study. These costs, in addition to the longer period of monthly  benefits received, also included the cost of education and training  and, in some cases, childcare expenses. Among the participants who were  placed in the immediate job search (Job Club) program, total costs to  the county were somewhat less per year, but more than 50% were still not  successful in gaining employment, and those that did find a job  received a much lower salary and fewer benefits, and another 23% fell  back on CalWORKs after later losing their employment.

Although the results of the CalWORKs program in this county seemed to  be following a mostly positive trend from 1996 through 2007, the  situation changed dramatically in the opposite direction during the  national economic downturn from 2007 through 2011. Total public  assistance rolls more than doubled to about 30,000 during this time as  the local and state unemployment rate rapidly grew from about 7% to more  than 12%. The county was initially successful in getting the state to  grant it waivers to allow recipients to extend their period of benefits  during education and training, but these waivers were considerably  restricted after 2011 due to major state budget cuts. Between 2011 and  early 2013 the total number of recipients began to decline again by  about 10% from its peak 2 years earlier. However, the total number of  CalWORKs recipients is at 27,000, still about 5,000 recipients higher  than when the program started in 1996.

Compounding the difficulty of more people becoming eligible for  CalWORKs’ benefits due to poor economic conditions, the state’s budget  crisis prompted a reduction in state allocations to counties and  recipients. Nonetheless, county administrators were still pleased to  report that more than more than 16,000 recipients during the program  were able to obtain employment or other support that eliminated their  dependency on cash public assistance.


 

Post an evaluation of the success of the CALWORKS  program based on the information presented in the case study. Be sure to  define what success would be for the program and how you, as an  administrator of the program, might evaluate whether success has been  achieved. Finally, make one recommendation for improving the program’s effectiveness.

Explain whether you agree with your colleague’s definition of success and method for evaluating success, and why



Support your post with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.


 

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Benton, A. D., & Austin, M. J. (2010). Managing nonprofit mergers: The challenges facing human service organizations. Administration in Social Work, 34(5), 458–479.
 

  

King, D., & Hodges, K. (2013). Outcomes-driven clinical management and supervisory practices with youth with severe emotional disturbance. Administration in Social Work, 37(3), 312–324.
 

  

Lawrence, C., Strolin-Goltzman, J., Caringi, J., Claiborne, N., McCarthy, M., Butts, E., & O’Connell, K. (2013). Designing evaluations in child welfare organizations: An approach for administrators. Administration in Social Work, 37(1), 3–13.
 

  

Lynch-Cerullo, K., & Cooney, K. (2011). Moving from outputs to outcomes: A review of the evolution of performance measurement in the human service nonprofit sector. Administration in Social Work, 35(4), 364–388.
 


Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen, S. M. (Eds.). (2014c). Social work case studies: Foundation year. Baltimore, MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing [Vital Source e-reader].
“Social Work Research: Program Evaluation” (pp. 66–68)



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