Poster Paper: Community-Based Support for Coping with Hard Times: Searching for What Works for Disadvantaged Families

Thursday, November 8, 2012
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sandra Danziger1, Richard Rodems2, Carolyn Barnes3 and Sue Ann Savas1, (1)University of Michigan, (2)University of Michigan School of Social Work, (3)University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

This paper reports on a small scale quasi-experimental evaluation of a local family support program for parents of young children (ages 5 and under) residing in the distressed metro Detroit area. The Family Success Program (FSP) extends voluntary children’s services programming to provide social resources to parents to improve their economic coping and well-being.  The program includes a series of group activities and case management services for parents over a one-to-two year period between 2009 and 2011.   Surveys were initially administered to 87 parents participating in the Family Success program and to a comparison group of 37 non-participating parents recruited through the agency’s Head Start program. The Head Start parents are comparable to enrollees in residential location, economic status, age of children, and connection to this community-based agency. We experienced a 77% response rate at our follow-up interviews and analyze data for 96 of 124 parents.  Given the lack of well-tested program models to improve parents’ economic coping, the program staff and researchers collaborated to develop a comprehensive set of goal areas or domains in which families could work on problem solving and improve their trajectories.  We designed the research to examine potential change in family well-being across the domains of parenting, child well-being, economic and financial supports, material hardships and financial status, parents’ emotional well-being, etc., and to capture the evolving nature of the program over the period. 

Here, to assess targeting, or for whom the services make a difference, we use both survey and qualitative data  to examine differences in well-being in the participants and comparison group after one year and to  highlight how participants experienced the program.  Among program participants, we examine differences in well-being by participation level and engagement in services.

We base our analyses in this paper on the program model’s theory of change and service goals for the families.  Adapting the Ruby Payne “framework for understanding poverty,” these services aim to help families learn alternative strategies for coping with financial and familial distress and gain confidence in navigating helping systems and opportunities for themselves and their children.  Engagement in the full range of services and supports over the year ideally expands the family’s social support network and increases reciprocity and interdependence within this widening social and economic support system. We use regression and matching techniques of analysis to assess the impact of enrollment and participation in the program on measures of parents’ social support and personal efficacy.

We place our findings in the context of the high unemployment and low skill base of the families and surrounding community, an epicenter of the recession.  We note the dearth of evidence on what works to help families cope in such hard times and draw implications that consider the lack of public and private services available to address the complexity of stresses that low income families face, and the dire need for policies that promote innovation in this field.