Education Through CalWORKs: An Exploratory Study
Mentor: Professor Julian
Graduate Student Instructors:
Allison DeMarco, Michael Barnes
This exploratory study examines the
knowledge of supportive services, specifically child care subsidies,
transportation benefits and textbook vouchers, among UC Berkeley CalWORKs
(California Work Opportunity Responsibility to Kids) participants enrolled in
educational programs as part of their welfare-to-work activities. Research data
was gathered through nine demographic background surveys and in-depth interviews
of current and former CalWORKs participants who attend or have completed
undergraduate degrees at UC Berkeley. Most participants were unaware of
transitional supportive services, and those who did know about the services
available to them acquired this knowledge through their personal social network
as opposed to programmatic outreach.
The primary research question for this
study was: how much do UC Berkeley CalWORKs participants know about supportive
services — specifically transportation benefits, child care
subsidies and textbook assistance — that could enhance their
educational program? Typically, CalWORKs participants are seeking higher
education while navigating welfare reform and are therefore in urgent need of
In 1996 President Clinton and Congress
implemented the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
(PRWORA) shifting the emphasis of welfare programs from entitlement to temporary
assistance. This welfare reform act implemented transitional assistance, work
programs and time limits aimed at long-term elimination of welfare in its
Transitional work programs are
classified as “temporary, subsidized employment or direct services”
that provide support to clients who lack work experience, education or training
(Carnochan, et al., 2003). Transitional assistance and work programs include
child care subsidies, transportation assistance, Earned Income Tax Credit,
Medicaid, housing assistance and the Food Stamp Program, which aim to provide
additional support in order to ease families and children from welfare to work
(Carnochan et al., 2003).
It is estimated that by 2006, nearly one
third of all new jobs will require education and skills beyond those of a high
school graduate, yet only 7 percent of welfare recipients have such skills
(Carnevale & Desroches, 1999). CalWORKs
prepares clients for competitive job markets through educational training
programs. Smith, Deprez and Butler (2002) found that recipients pursuing post
secondary education significantly improved their self-esteem, economic
stability, sense of accomplishment and their children’s aspirations to
attend college. Therefore the denial of services to eligible participants could
hinder their ability to take full advantage of opportunities for higher
education provided through CalWORKs programs
(Corcoran, Danziger, & Kalil, 2000).
The average monthly cost for infant care
in Alameda, California is $907, which exceeds the average monthly cash grant of
$333 per capita. In particular, the average cost of child care exceeds the
average cash grant for a CalWORKs participant. Further, welfare recipients have
little disposable income for child care and transportation costs. Without
subsidized child care or opportunities for greater income, participants find
that work and training are difficult to sustain.
By providing cash assistance to needy
families, CalWORKs enables them to pay for food, rent, and clothes, in addition
to other needs. As a condition of eligibility all adult CalWORKs recipients
must participate in work activities during the entire time they receive
assistance. Exemptions are granted to victims of domestic violence or for
medical reasons (Gabor & Pastore, 2001).
In California, counties have delegated
the decision-making responsibility regarding who receives supportive services
from management to frontline workers. These decisions were implemented to
ensure timely and individualized services, but because all 58 counties in the
state of California administer different welfare programs, tracking the
effectiveness and outcomes of welfare reform is difficult. Thus, improving the
quality and delivery of support services has become a central theme in welfare
reform debates (Anderson, Halter, & Schuldt,
2001). Analyses of support services often focus on a single service; however, a
more comprehensive package of support services, such as those outlined by the
county would better aid needy families.
A case proceeds through CalWORKs in the
following ways within Alameda County. GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence)
Program employment counselors determine if CalWORKs participants who have signed
welfare-to-work agreements are eligible for supportive services. Employment
counselors must meet with a participant at least yearly or every semester for
participants enrolled in an educational program for the duration of their
eligibility in the CalWORKs program. Employment counselors also assess their
clients’ needs to determine the appropriate combination of ancillary
services and provide information to the participant about the available service
before writing a referral for child care services, transportation assistance and
Based on their assessments, Alameda
County provides transitional assistance and supportive services for 18 to 24
months. UC Berkeley CalWORKs recipients are given 24 months to allow time to
finish their education program. Once the recipient finds employment or upon
completion of an education program, Alameda County requires a final assessment
which consists of an exit interview between the employment counselor and the
client to determine the continued need for supportive services. If a
participant is eligible, according to state income limits, supportive services
are available for an additional 12 months (Gabor
& Pastore, 2001).
Participants in this study were
solicited through email and the Internet for a period of four weeks. In framing
the analysis, the researcher utilized Erickson’s theory of analytic
induction to formulate interview questions and generate “assertions
drawn from multiple perspectives found in the data” (Harrison, 1999, p.
67). By using analytic induction, vignettes create paradigms that
generate a framework for case study analysis. Statistical Package for the
Social Sciences (SPSS) research software was used for the demographic
information analysis and 122 variables were used to code the data. The
researcher looked at the frequency of variables and analyzed interview questions
in determining the participants’ knowledge of supportive services.
The mean age of participants in this
study (n=9) was 28.4 with a standard deviation of 7.9 years. All participants
were female and all had at least one dependent with an average of two children.
Most participants were first generation college students, although two
participants had a parent who had earned an undergraduate degree or higher. All
participants planned to advance to a higher degree in the
All participants had at least three
years of college experience and one participant had a master’s degree from
UC Berkeley. Two participants were African American, one participant was
Guatemalan, one participant was Vietnamese, two were of mixed ethnicity, two
were white and one participant was Mexican.
Two themes emerged from this case study.
First, UC Berkeley CalWORKs participants reported using social networks to gain
information on supportive services. The second interdependent theme pertained
to the lack of uniform dissemination of information to participants by the
county agency or caseworker.
The researcher employed Cecilia
Menjivar’s theory of social networks to: (1) analze the process by which
CalWORKs participants obtained assistance and its timeliness, and (2) examine
the place of social networks and quality of ties (Menjivar, 2000).
Most participants had little or no
knowledge of supportive services upon completion of their welfare to work plan.
Participant #9 claimed she “had to find out from other people” about
transportation benefits. Participant #3 stated, “I have not seen the
worker in 14 months”, and her welfare to work plan was due to end in
UC Berkeley is unique in that the
institution has student support services tailored to the needs of UC Berkeley
parents. Yet, the implication of this finding is that if educational
institutions do not provide student support services that can foster social
networks, CalWORKs participants enrolled in educational programs may not be able
to access needed services.
The researcher asked study participants,
“Do you or did you receive child care, transportation or textbook voucher
assistance?” In their responses, most recipients expressed that they did
not receive them or did not know about them. Participant #5 stated, “I
didn’t receive book vouchers because I was never told how I could receive
them.” Participant #4 stated, “I didn’t know transportation
and book benefits existed.” Participant #7 stated, “I was not aware
of any services.” Finally, Participant #6 stated, “Because of my
experiences with them while I was trying to go to college, I have not asked them
[CalWORKs] for assistance though I need it.”
The researcher asked study participants
who were told they could not enter an educational program at UC Berkeley to
speculate on why the county took such a position. Participant #5 stated,
“They [the worker] said very little about what I was eligible for.”
Participant #4, “I was told one parent needed to work and only one could
go to school.” Participant #7 stated, “I was told to get a job and
don’t do it”, meaning go to UC Berkeley. Most participants knew
very little about textbook assistance, and very few knew about transitional
child care and transportation services. The degree to which participants felt
their families’ well-being had improved with supportive services was most
often “not much.”
The implication of these responses and
findings is that participants who need services are not receiving information
about them. They may feel, as one participant stated, “frustrated”
and give up on their educational goals leading to increased hardships and
welfare recidivism. For this theme, the researcher consulted a study conducted
by Bay Area Social Services Consortium (BASSC) on the frontline worker and the
notion of the street level bureaucrat. BASSC reports that information about
supportive services may not be conveyed by welfare agencies because of their
flawed and complicated organizations, their obscure rules and regulations, their
limited knowledge of supportive services, their professional training, and the
worker’s perceptions of their jobs (Carnochan et. al.
The following tables illustrate the
participants’ knowledge of which supportive services were available to
participants. Only Participants #3 and #9 knew of all supportive services
available to them.
Table 1: Participant knowledge of
supportive services availability
Knew one service
Transportation, child care and book
Note: Scale for question: 0=None;
1=Knew one service; 2=Knew two services; 3=Knew transportation, child care and
Participant experiences varied with
regard to employment counselor interaction and treatment; however a central
pattern was the lack of uniform delivery of services. For example, Participant
#9 received two supportive services, child care and book vouchers, despite her
efforts to gain transportation services after learning from other participants
that they existed. She requested the service, but “had to prove”
the service was needed. During our interview, this participant also indicated
that the family mode of travel was public transportation.
Two participants were not comfortable
with their child care arrangements and all participants found their own child
care arrangements. More child care subsidies were not initially offered
to participants and those who knew about them gained this information from their
social network. None of the participants received transitional child care from
the county and none of the participants knew of any transitional services upon
leaving the CalWORKs program or at the completion of their welfare to work plan.
Table 2 illustrates the knowledge of
specific supportive service among CalWORKs participants during the first 18
months of welfare-to-work participation. None of the study participants
utilized supportive programs such as domestic violence counseling or mental
Table 2: Participants (0-18) months
knowledge of service
Transportation and book
Child care and
Transportation, child care and book
Note: Scale for question: 0=None; 1=Child care; 2=Transportation for self;
3=Transportation for child(ren); 4=Book vouchers; 5=Transitional services;
6=Transportation and book vouchers; 7=Child care and transportation; 8=Book
voucher and child care; 9=Transportation, child care and book vouchers
The purpose of this study was
exploratory in nature. It draws upon the present findings and previous studies
to make inferences about a select population of CalWORKs participants, localize
and identify problematic aspects of their welfare experience, and begin to
develop ameliorative structural solutions for future implementation. Due to the
small n of 9, the findings of this study have limited scope and cannot be
generalized as an accurate representation of people’s experiences with
state and national welfare programs. However, two things must be noted
regarding the nature of this study: (1) the number of CalWORKs students at UC
Berkeley is presumed small and (2) the findings of this study are consistent
with the aforementioned BASSC Study that was conducted in 2003.
As a case study, the results although
inconclusive, show significant issues with welfare-to-work programs. Further,
the descriptive analysis of participant responses yielded themes that can lead
to future areas of research. Research conducted in the future could will
include interviews with social-work practitioners, whose answers to future
surveys on educational program objectives would lend insight into the
Participants in this study pointed to
transportation needs and the lack of information disseminated by county agencies
as the primary barriers to receiving supportive services. The implication of
this finding is that CalWORKs participants do not know of all of the services
for which they are eligible.
The lack of uniform delivery of
supportive services to eligible and low-income families may hinder long-term and
gainful employment. The organizational shift in county agencies toward
front-line worker discretion to determine supportive services was intended to
provide individualized attention to serve a client’s needs. However, this
study found that information about supportive services was disseminated through
social networks rather than the frontline worker.
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