SOCIAL WORK CASE STUDIES: FOUNDATION YEAR
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 Assis- tance 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 chil- dren. 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 appli- cation of the new TANF federal law. Like most of the other states, CalWORKs provided its 58 counties with a fair amount of discre- tion 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
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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 approxi- mately 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 some- what 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
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SOCIAL WORK CASE STUDIES: FOUNDATION YEAR
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.
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2. Which theory or theories did you use to guide your practice? Theoretical frameworks included a feminist empowerment
model and the strengths perspective. 3. What were the identified strengths of the client(s)? The identified strengths of the group were resiliency and a will-
ingness to process their trauma, testify to their losses, and vali- date their own survivorship.
4. What were the identified challenges faced by the client(s)? Most of the group faced the challenges of setting boundaries in
their interpersonal relationships along with a lack of trust, low self-esteem, self-blame, and anger issues.
5. What were the agreed-upon goals to be met to address the concern?
Goals to be met included acceptance of events that could no longer be changed and integrating the event into the survivor’s life narrative so they could move on.
6. How can evidence-based practice be integrated into this situation?
Evidence-based practice was indicated in the form of the DASS tests measuring clients’ emotional baselines before and after exposure to group therapy. The 12-week group format and topic structure was based on previously successful DASS outcomes and validity.
7. Describe any additional personal reflections about this case.
The 12-week group format I developed has empowered many survivors of sexual abuse by giving them the knowledge and skills needed to move ahead in their spectrum of healing.
Social Work Research: Program Evaluation 1. What specific intervention strategies (skills, knowledge,
etc.) did you use to address this client situation? The most salient theories related to welfare reform programs
include the ecosystems theory and the person-in-environment (PIE) theory. Both of these theories focus on the effects of envi- ronments on people and cultures and could be used in examining
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SOCIAL WORK CASE STUDIES: FOUNDATION YEAR
the marginalization of those in poverty from the prevailing economic system and the patterns of poverty being transmitted through successive generations of families and communities.
2. What were the agreed-upon goals to be met to address the concern?
The goals of the CalWORKs program were to facilitate greater self-sufficiency among welfare recipients; confront long-term dependency; reduce the cost of welfare services; and provide expanded job training, placement, and other employment support assistance to families. The problem was that these goals sometimes conflicted with each other and that many states and localities faced the challenges of prevailing macroeconomic trends, especially during years of economic recession.
3. Did you have to address any issues around cultural compe- tence? Did you have to learn about this population/group prior to beginning your work with this client system? If so, what type of research did you do to prepare?
Cultural competency has been a major concern throughout efforts of welfare reform. These include the high proportion of recipients with limited English-speaking skills, physical and mental health disabilities, and differences in cultural perspec- tives about the concepts of self-sufficiency versus shared responsibilities. The expanding trend of more single-parent families, blended families, and extended families added addi- tional program administration complications.
4. How can evidence-based practice be integrated into this situation?
Evidence-based practice should be seen as a critical compo- nent of any welfare reform effort because success is clearly dependent on the outcomes of program participants.
5. Describe any additional personal reflections about this case. It is important to note that welfare reform measures have a
great range of variability between various states and counties. This diversity presents both challenges for assessing results and opportunities to examine the outcome of the different strategies.
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How do you determine the “success” of a human services program? Part of your role as an administrator is to collaborate with your staff to determine how a particular program’s effectiveness will be measured. The outcomes must be clear, realistic, and feasible, and how the outcomes will be assessed must be clear also.
For this Discussion, you will address the “Social Work Research: Program Evaluation” case study in Social Work Case Studies: Foundation Year. Assume the role of an administrator in the case study to evaluate what has occurred in the program and how you might improve it.
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.
Support your post with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.