Monthly Archives: December 2011

Recently Released, Now Welcome Home?

The Future of Children blog recently touched on issues faced by previously incarcerated young men and their families. As noted in the Future of Children volume on Fragile Families, incarceration places additional strain on fathers by reducing earnings, compromising health, and increasing the likelihood of family breakup.

In addition to these barriers to re-entry, the latest research brief from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study indicates that previously incarcerated fathers are also at greater risk of experiencing housing insecurity such as homelessness, eviction, and being forced to move in with someone else due to financial constraints. A lack of stable housing complicates matters for recently released fathers seeking employment to support their families. Applicants often need a residential address and contact information when applying for a job. They may also be at greater risk of returning to jail if driven to sleep in public or loiter.

What can be done to help recently incarcerated young fathers get back on their feet?

The Fragile Families research brief recommends making educational and work programs accessible to prisoners prior to and upon release. Increased earnings may help ex-prisoners better maintain stable housing. As highlighted in an earlier Future of Children blog, some policies promote the hiring of ex-offenders by prohibiting questions about prior convictions from initial job interviews. Earlier this month, National Public Radio highlighted programs that seek to connect ex-offenders to medical treatment and housing. For more recommendations for policies and programs to help recently incarcerated young men, see the Future of Children issues on the Transition to Adulthood and Fragile Families.

Workplace Flexibility as Anti-Poverty Strategy

Under pressure to balance their budgets, states are cutting government subsidies that help pay for child care as reported on December 13 in The New York Times. The reduction threatens the wellbeing of families by making it more difficult for parents to maintain their jobs while caring for their children. One option to offset the impact of such cuts may lie in increased provisions of workplace flexibility.

Research included in the Future of Children’s Work and Family volume, released by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and the Brookings Institution, finds workplace flexibility is linked with engagement, satisfaction, retention, and better health for employees; and higher productivity and a better “bottom line” for employers. The volume also shows that providing short to moderate periods of paid parental leave – from three to twelve months – for all workers is unlikely to have negative repercussions in the labor market and is likely to have positive benefits for child and family wellbeing.

In a global comparison, the data presented in the volume suggest that guaranteeing paid parental leave as well as paid leave when a child is sick is feasible for the United States without jeopardizing its competitive economy or low unemployment rates in the future. And perhaps contrary to popular opinion, the volume shows that when employees are offered workplace flexibility, they tend to use it conservatively, minimizing costs to employers.

“Allowing employees more control over their hours and more flexibility to adjust hours or work location when family demands arise can lead to increased employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention,” say issue editors Sara McLanahan of Princeton and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University. “Far from representing a cost to employers, such policies, if well designed to take into account the needs of both employers and employees, can yield benefits.”

Paid leave and workplace flexibility policies are particularly important for low-income workers, who are the least likely to have access to flexibility policies. For these families, taking care of their families can put their wages – and their jobs – at risk. Because current welfare policies encourage low-income parents to work, workplace policies that encourage job retention should follow.

In the face of unprecedented federal government budget strains, the volume recommends initiatives with minimal costs and maximum benefits. Namely, the volume recommends that state and local governments pass paid leave initiatives (Connecticut recently became the first state to require employers to provide paid sick leave); that employers implement workplace flexibility policies that encourage “right to request” and “compensatory time”; and that community organizations think carefully about the ways they can adjust their work to better accommodate working families by, for example, changing the hours they are open or providing better coordination of care.

Disadvantaged Young Men and Families

“The statistics are sobering: more than 23 million children, or 1 out of every 3, live apart from their biological fathers; males are now less likely than females to graduate from high school and to enter and graduate from college; there is long-term decline in the percentage of adult males who have jobs; and only about 60 percent of young minority males have a job. The nation is in a crisis regarding the development and economic productivity of young males, especially disadvantaged males.” (Brookings Institution)

On December 5, the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution hosted an event focused on young disadvantaged males in the United States and the intervention programs that might best serve them.

Using research from a recent issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, edited by Timothy Smeeding, Irwin Garfinkel, and Ron Mincy, speakers showed that few teenage and young adult males benefited from the economic recovery of 2003-2007 and men under thirty were more adversely affected than any other demographic group by the Great Recession.

Broadly speaking, men have historically had the upper hand in the U.S. economy. But with the recent decline in jobs, including manufacturing and construction jobs, young men now find it more difficult to earn enough to support a family than they did during the mid-1970s. (The Future of Children: Transition to Adulthood) And by age 30, between sixty eight and seventy five percent of young men in the United States, with only a high school degree or less, are fathers.

Many of these fathers are also incarcerated, which puts additional strain on families. Incarceration rates for men have skyrocketed since the 1980s. As Irv Garfinkel noted at the Brookings event, the U.S. is incarcerating far too many young men, particularly those of color. Although white, non-Hispanic males account for about seventy eight percent of all men over 25 in the U.S., less than one-third of prisoners are white men. Imprisonment diminishes the earnings of adult men, compromises their health, reduces familial resources, and contributes to family breakup. It also adds to the deficits of poor children, thus ensuring that the effects of imprisonment on inequality are transferred intergenerationally. Perversely, incarceration has its most corrosive effects on families whose fathers were involved in neither domestic violence nor violent crime before being imprisoned. (The Future of Children: Fragile Families)

The evidence shows that, with proper funding and implementation, a surprising number of programs could help reduce the problems that afflict disadvantaged young males. Some of these include:

1.) Career Academies: career development and academic achievement programs

2.) The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

3.) Expanded Work Programs, including the Child Support Work Program

For more details on these programs, which were featured at the Brookings event, click here.

The Future of Children issues on Transition to Adulthood and Fragile Families also provide additional research on disadvantaged young men and their families.

Current Barriers to Bridging the Gap: A Follow-Up

This week’s news provides one example of the political kinks between research and policy. The New York Times reports that federal funding for six new evidence-based initiatives will be significantly cut or eliminated under a new House proposal. Future of Children researchers show that one program funded by the initiatives, the Nurse-Family Partnership discussed in the previous blog, delays second births and reduces child maltreatment among teenage mothers.

While no decisions have been finalized yet, experts are concerned about the future of such programs. Brookings scholar and Senior Editor for the Future of Children Ron Haskins asks in the Times article, “Why, in a constrained budget environment, do you cut the programs that have to show they’re working? It makes no sense.” For more comments by Ron Haskins, see the Brookings Institution blog on this topic. Also see policy suggestions in the Future of Children.

Bridging the Gap Between Research and Policy

New census estimates for counties and school districts indicate that a third of all counties in 2010 had school-age poverty rates that were significantly higher than the national poverty rate. This is one of many statistics about the welfare of U.S. children that compels us to review the supports we currently provide and in the future might provide to children and their families.

But in challenging fiscal times, how do we make decisions about what programs to support?

A major objective of The Future of Children is to translate evidence-based research for policy makers, practitioners, and others working in the field. Although no social science research is perfect, quality research can help policy makers and practitioners better understand what works best for children, and allocate finite resources to meet their needs.

The Obama administration embraces evidence-based programming. But interpreting evidence is often as important as the evidence itself, particularly when the views of policymakers and interest groups may influence interpretations of research outcomes. According to a Future of Children policy brief, the views of policymakers and those in office often outweigh the evidence, and influential interest groups may be more concerned with the people and organizations they serve than with evaluation outcomes.

In a recent presentation for the University-Based Child and Family Policy Consortium, Jon Baron, President of the The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy and Woodrow Wilson School alumnus, spoke about the benefits and challenges of using evidence to inform policy and program development. It is tempting for programs to want to show success and for politicians to want to quickly dismiss what does not work, but is better to create an environment that supports accurate research and allows for program growth over time. Working closely with the Office of Management and Budget, the Coalition uses a two-tiered approach: providing support for programs with the strongest positive evidence from randomized trials, while rigorously evaluating programs with less evidence.

Mr. Baron presented two examples of programs that have yielded positive results among disadvantaged groups, one in the field of education and the other in child health and wellbeing, both of which were featured in Future of Children volumes:

In education, the H&R Block FAFSA Project yielded strong positive effects, according to Mr. Baron. As described in the Future of Children issue Transition to Adulthood and highlighted in a past blog, the goal of the intervention project is to inform low-income families of the financial aid that could be available to them and to help them make informed decisions about whether or not to apply and enroll in college. Findings from randomized experiments show that the program increased college enrollment for low- and moderate-income students by about 26% when compared to the control group.

In child wellbeing, rigorous social science evaluations of home-visiting programs designed to improve parenting and reduce child maltreatment convinced President Barack Obama’s admin­istration to initiate a multi-billion-dollar federal program to expand a particular model of home visiting, the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP). As summarized in The Future of Children’s issue on Preventing Child Maltreatment, in this program, specially trained registered nurses conduct regular home visits to low-income first-time mothers to promote healthy behavior during pregnancy and positive parenting skills.

Key to the success of these and future initiatives is working with policy makers and practitioners to better understand the problems they are trying to solve, their social networks, and the ways by which they acquire, interpret, and use research. The next step is then to effectively translate unbiased research that addresses their questions into information that they can use.

The Future of Children publishes two volumes and policy briefs each year to bring research on various topics about child wellbeing to those working on the frontline. To read our volumes and policy briefs, click here. To view webcasts from some of our outreach events, click here.