Selected Projects and Reports
Foster youth now have a crucial opportunity to shape foster care in California—and throughout the United States—as part of a broad program evaluation. This project is called NYTD, which stands for National Youth in Transition Database. It is a nationwide project involving all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The NYTD survey is a chance for youth to provide information about their own experiences to improve services.
One of the top priorities for the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) is development and utilization of specific, measurable indicators of well-being for children interacting with the state’s systems. This project is the first step in assessing the current measurement systems, communication processes, and data collection across various service agencies. This report identifies 33 distinct outcome measures (from AB 636), determines whether data are available to measure them, and provides recommendations as to how CDSS might proceed with accurate and efficient assessment of well-being for children in the child welfare system.
Federal Child and Family Services Reviews (CSFRs) and California legislation (including AB 636) focus on child welfare system outcomes and accountability. This report examines relations between outcomes and caseloads. It also explores state and county demographic issues, and describes budgeting methodologies used in other states. The report provides recommendations for linking caseloads, demographic trends, and outcomes to state expenditures and county allocations.
The goal of this pilot study was to examine maltreated children’s knowledge and attitudes about dependency court. Researchers had the rare opportunity to interview children as they emerged from the courtroom and to question them about their experiences. The authors found that many of these children did not understand and had negative attitudes toward the dependency court. Such results have important implications for social policy, as maltreated children would likely benefit from understanding the complicated legal system that greatly influences their lives.
Poverty can have a profound influence on the social, physical, and developmental needs of children and families. The central concern of this report was to identify the mechanisms through which family poverty and economic hardship affect parental behaviors and other social environments that contribute to whether or not children become well-adjusted members of the broader community in terms of their personal attributes and relationships with others. Two major approaches to understanding the role of economic hardship on children and families—the Family Stress Model and the Investment Model— were emphasized. Results indicate that poor or lower SES children are at risk, not only for higher than average rates of physical illness and reduced life expectancies, but also for truncated life opportunities and behavioral or emotional problems. Reviewed empirical findings were frequently consistent with theoretical predictions from the family stress and parental investment perspectives. Moreover, these theoretical frameworks also predict the intergenerational transmission of family economic circumstances.
The purpose of the current report was to discuss the interaction between two of the most important early influences on long-term self-sufficiency: the childhood family environment and the school experience. The authors focused on children coming from the most troubled family backgrounds, and explored the impact such experiences have on children’s subsequent success or failure in school. The authors explore the connections between educational attainment and economic self-sufficiency; the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral influences on educational attainment; and the connections between maltreatment, public assistance, and various emotional and behavioral factors. The authors also stress, however, that with high levels of school engagement, peer and teach support, and academic motivation, many of the earliest difficulties of maltreated children do not have to result in lifelong struggles with adjustment, independence, and self-sufficiency.
The purpose of this pilot study was to examine predictors of multiple out-of-home placements for maltreated children, a variable that has been associated with negative outcomes for foster children. Using confidential juvenile court records, the relations between case characteristics and number of out-of-home-placements were examined for 85 children. Results indicated that children who endured more severe or longer durations of abuse, those who suffered abuse from their own parent rather than a non-parent, and children who had a guardian ad litem were more likely to have a greater number of out-of-home placements.
Although welfare reform has been successful in raising employment rates among current and former welfare recipients, issues of job retention and advancement continue to play an important role in determining whether or not those transitioning from welfare to work achieve and maintain long-term self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. The goal of this report was to examine psychological, educational, and social research dealing with factors that contribute to workers’ ability to negotiate the transition from welfare to work and avoid voluntary or involuntary job loss. In so doing, the authors adopted a novel focus on the importance of close relationships and attachment styles in the transition from welfare to work. Included in the results are specific recommendations on possible ways of improving the welfare-to-work transitions using the reviewed theories and models, and their related empirical research.
The major purpose of this study was to better understand the extent to which recent poverty trends in California can be explained by the state’s level of economic activity, its labor market, and its wages. The authors reviewed the literature on the connection between macroeconomic conditions and poverty, analyzed this relation using data from the nation as a whole, and then applied these lessons to California’s recent experience. Results indicated that increasing wage inequality can explain much of the poverty increase in California. This was a sizable effect, and it suggests that policies aimed at improving wage opportunities at the bottom of the wage distribution may be able to do a great deal to help families move out of poverty. In addition, results suggest that a fuller understanding of poverty trends will require further research into the role of factors less directly related to the economy, including variations in the proportion of minorities or immigrants in the labor market, the mix of highly skilled vs. low-skilled workers, and rates of females serving as heads of household.
The stated goals of welfare reform have been to increase work, reduce dependency on welfare, reduce births outside marriage, and increase the formation of two-parent families. The goal of this report was to present descriptive data on children’s living arrangements and summarize what is known about the role played by welfare reform in determining trends in living arrangements. Results for both the United States and California show a steady downward trend in the proportion of children living with a married parent from 1989 through the mid-1990s (followed by a flattening of the trend), and increase in the proportion of children living with an unmarried parent, and dramatic increases in the proportion of children living with neither parent. Although these results are informative, the authors stress the need to further explore the mechanisms by which welfare reform affects these trends in family living arrangements.
Food security is vital for optimal human health and productivity, and identifying the subgroups of the population at greatest risk of food insecurity is necessary to target social services effectively. The goal of this study was to identify factors associated with food insecurity, using data from the short form the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Household Food Security Module, as included in the 2004 California Women’s Health Survey. Results indicate that 25.7 percent of the women in the survey were food insecure in 2004. Although low income was a major determinant, almost 10 percent of women with incomes at or above 250 percent of the federal poverty level also reported some level of food insecurity. The authors found that many factors—such as a recent divorce, job loss, or health problems—may contribute to food insecurity and are not easily captured by reported annual income. After accounting for the effects of income, other factors independently associated with greater food insecurity were: Latino/Hispanic or African American race/ethnicity, less than a 12th grade education, being unmarried, being under 55 years of age, being primarily Spanish-speaking, and having spent less than half one’s life in the United States.
The development of skills and abilities relevant to workforce participation is an essential concern of society in general and public agencies in particular because of its importance to economic growth. The goal of this report was to review research from the fields of economics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive development, and early intervention concerning the importance of investing in early childhood development to foster lifelong work-related competencies. Reviewed evidence suggests that the development of basic human competencies occurs at its most accelerated pace in the early years of life, and the growth of these early competencies is directly linked to the emergence of adult skills that are relevant to workforce success. Furthermore, early deprivation can have significant effects on young children because of the vulnerability of early development to harm, and that such disadvantage—when left unchanged—predicts long-term difficulty in ways that are relevant to adult success. The authors conclude that there is a strong case for investing public resources in early childhood development as a means of improving adult workforce competency and avoiding welfare reliance.