Family Support Projects
Family Support Research
The stability and well-being of families with children—particularly families with limited means—are central public policy concerns. Parents’ success in the labor market, and public programs to help them succeed, can affect the material comforts, self-esteem, and well-being they and their children enjoy, as well as the quality of couple and family relationships. Social programs can protect families in distress against the most severe consequences of economic cycles and personal misfortune, while promoting the goal of self-sufficiency. Because some of our most vulnerable families are headed by parents who had their first child as teens, policymakers have developed strategies to address these families' needs and have devised efforts in recent years to encourage teens to delay parenthood.
In addition, parents’ ability to maintain a loving and constructive relationship as a couple affects their own well-being and their capacity to provide the warmth and support young children need to thrive. Moreover, the key role fathers play in the cognitive and social development of their children is increasingly understood by researchers and policymakers and has become a central element of public policy debates on family well-being.
To strengthen the tools we have as a society to support families, Mathematica conducts research ranging from small exploratory studies to major multi-year evaluations. Our staff use clear, rigorous, and objective analysis to explore sensitive public policy issues and the dynamics of family behavior. We study initiatives to help families deal with their economic, social, and personal concerns, determining which interventions have the strongest chance of success and how public and nonprofit agencies can best design and manage services.
Strengthening relationships and increasing fathers' involvement have emerged as central national policy strategies to improve the lives of low-income families and enhance the well-being of children. We are conducting studies to increase understanding about how to help low-income couples solidify their relationships, engage fathers more fully, and create the best environments in which to raise children.
Our groundbreaking 10-year Building Strong Families demonstration is testing whether workshops on communication and relationship skills, combined with social supports, can help unwed parents stay together, manage conflict, maintain intimacy, increase the degree to which fathers are involved in their children’s lives, and improve children’s early development. The study is using a rigorous random assignment design and includes more than 5,000 couples in seven states. A report released in May 2010 provides short-term results on BSF’s impacts on couples after about 15 months, focusing on the stability and quality of the couples’ relationships.
We have also studied the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, the longest-running statewide marriage initiative in the United States, which focuses on building capacity to deliver instruction in marriage and relationship skills. In addition, we are examining how low-income couples make decisions together and how a better understanding of these processes can improve the delivery and effectiveness of social service programs. We have also studied the link between marriage and health, as well as the connection between marital status and insurance coverage, and have analyzed the attitudes and experiences of teenagers concerning marriage and romantic relationships.
We are also examining the role of low-income fathers in their children’s lives. As part of our Early Head Start evaluation, 21 grantees launched fatherhood demonstration programs to develop and implement practices that increase the involvement of fathers and support them in meeting their parental responsibilities. We evaluated the success of these programs and the role these fathers play in their children’s lives. We have also examined strategies for improving the child support enforcement process, including collaborations between welfare agencies and workforce investment systems.
Teen parenthood can have substantial negative consequences for both teens and their children. Moreover, early initiation into sexual activity can put adolescents at risk of not only unplanned pregnancy but also sexually transmitted diseases. Mathematica is studying strategies for addressing these risks and is providing policymakers with reliable evidence to inform these policy debates.
In 2007, Mathematica released a landmark study of abstinence-only education. Our five-year evaluation provided the first rigorous and objective data on how education advocating teenage abstinence affects teen sexual behaviors, finding little difference between control groups and those exposed to the four interventions studied. Building on our abstinence study, our current evaluation of pregnancy prevention approaches is documenting and testing a variety of strategies for preventing or reducing the incidence of teen sexual activity and pregnancy and its consequences. The evaluation is testing a mix of program models, including both comprehensive sex education and abstinence-based approaches. We have evaluated other teen pregnancy prevention initiatives, including the Will Power/Won’t Power® initiative, sponsored by Girls, Incorporated®.
Mathematica has also studied programs and policies to improve the lives of teen parents and their children. We conducted a national study of residential programs for teenage parents and documented their operations through site visits to programs in seven states. We have examined how states have implemented federal mandates to impose school attendance and parental residence requirements on teenage parents as a condition for their receipt of cash assistance. We also conducted the Teenage Parent Demonstration, an influential national evaluation of a strategy to move teen parents on welfare toward self-sufficiency.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, created in 1996, requires most welfare recipients to work and imposes time limits on welfare benefits. Recent changes in federal TANF rules place new pressures on states to reduce their welfare caseloads and increase the proportion of their TANF recipients in work activities. Mathematica’s research is providing useful guidance to states in this evolving policy environment.
Mathematica has conducted in-depth case studies to document strategies states are using to increase their TANF work participation rates and has summarized our findings in a series of practice briefs. We have studied other state TANF policies and practices, including diversion programs, sanctioning policies, and strategies for helping TANF recipients with disabilities succeed in the labor market.
We have recently completed a rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of two welfare-to-work strategies in rural areas of Illinois and Nebraska. The Nebraska program, a home visitation and life skills education initiative designed to improve the basic life skills and job readiness of hard-to-employ TANF recipients, showed promise in improving employment outcomes, particularly among the most disadvantaged participants. We have analyzed a host of other TANF policies related to time limits, family and child well-being, work supports, and special populations. We have conducted large evaluations of state welfare reform efforts in Iowa, New Jersey, and other states. Our early work in this area continues to shape the policy and research agenda.