Project Findings: Low Cost, Low Key Changes can Improve Outcomes

Work in behavioral science suggests that small changes can move people to act on personal goals. To test this approach in the realm of human services, MRDC along with sponsoring federal agencies, launched the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self Sufficiency (BIAS) program with a goal of improving both the efficiency and outcomes of programming. Small changes or “nudges” to a program that facilitate the experience for clients, for example, the simplification of an application process, personalization of correspondence, or prominently highlighting a deadline, have an influence on decisions made by current or potential program participants. These adjustments are not major design changes, rather they are low cost, easily implemented ways to change the complexities many lower income families face .

Randomized trials at participating state and local human service agencies introduced specific behavioral interventions based on a period of review and identification of “bottlenecks.” Results indicate that these small changes had a statistically significant impact on outcomes in childcare and work support (including increased attendance at meetings or appointments) and child support (including increased rate of payment).

If small changes make a difference, why are larger-scale programmatic changes (that could result in increased benefits) so difficult to negotiate and implement? Perhaps examining program design through the lens of behavioral economics, where both staff and participant benefit from improved outcomes, is the path toward innovation in the provision of human services. The full report on the BIAS project and additional information on the MRDC’s work with behavioral interventions is available on their website.

 

Report citation: Richburg-Hayes, Lashawn, Caitlin Anzelone, and Nadine Dechausay with Patrick Landers (2017). Nudging Change in Human Services: Final Report of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) Project. OPRE Report 2017-23. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Making the Most of Each Budget Dollar

One of the few things both sides of the political aisle are able to agree on is getting better performance out of programs, as seen by the move toward evidence-based policymaking under prior administrations. The federal government could lead by example, suggests Brookings Fellow Andrew Feldman, by creating a bipartisan team focused on improving performance of federally funded programs, giving states the freedom to implement innovative programming and shoulder more accountability for results, and reducing hurdles to program evaluation while encouraging the incorporation of data analytics into regular reporting. In a time of new federal spending priorities, budget shortfalls, increased need, and much uncertainty, states must get serious about investing in programs that work by actively incorporating outcomes research into their policymaking.

A report from the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking: A National Assessment, assessed the levels of commitment and action of states using research to guide decision-making related behavioral health, criminal justice, juvenile justice and child welfare policy. This study scored each state and the District of Columbia on the extent to which they incorporated research findings in policy, including defining categories of evidence, conducting program cost-benefit analyses, and identifying specific funding for evidence-based programming. According to the brief, 50 states have taken some sort of action through the allocation of funding for programs supported by research findings, while 42 states report outcomes in the budget annually. Just 17 states compare program outcomes and costs.

While Washington, Utah, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Oregon lead the nation in evidence–based policymaking, Pennsylvania is one of 11 “established” states, with 13 evidence-based policymaking actions (three advanced and ten minimum) across the four policy areas studied. According to the assessment scorecard, Pennsylvania uses advanced research-driven policy actions most often in the juvenile justice sector.

Read more about the levels of evidence-based policy-making and individual state scorecards, in the report available at the Pew Charitable Trusts website. Case studies are also available on how to design contracts and grants to require outcomes reporting tied to program performance.

Study: Americans with Disabilities Want to Work, are Working

Americans with disabilities endeavor to find employment and are successful in overcoming obstacles in the workplace, according to the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey, the first nationally representative survey to examine the work experiences of adult Americans with disabilities.  Approximately 68 percent of respondents indicated they were looking for work, have worked, or were currently employed since the onset of disability. Persons currently working averaged 35.5 hours a week, and over half (60.7 percent) worked 40+ hours a week.  The majority of those not employed (but looking for work) were actively preparing to enter the workforce in optimum condition by receiving medical treatment and rehabilitation (72.7 percent).

Additional findings:

  • Most respondents (86.6 percent) reported feeling accepted at their places of employment.
  • Over half of those surveyed (68.4 percent) reported that their workplaces provided most or all of the supports or accommodations they needed. The most requested accommodation was schedule flexibility (28.4 percent).
  • Challenges for those employed included receiving less pay than others in a similar position (16.5 percent) and management attitudes (15.7 percent).  At least one-third of respondents reported overcoming one of these obstacles (38.6 percent for pay disparity and 41.3 percent for supervisor attitude).

The complete report, including video of the presentation of findings on Capitol Hill, is available at the Kessler Foundation website.

 

 

 

 

Report Citation: Kessler Foundation (2015). The Kessler Foundation 2015 National Employment and Disability Survey: Report of Main Findings. West Orange, NJ.

Child Maltreatment and Abuse – A Predictor Agencies are Using Prediction to Prevent

According to 2011 data,  12.5 percent of children under the age of 18 are abused or neglected in the United States each year.  A Facts on Youth brief from the Center for Health and Justice at TASC cites a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that found confirmed maltreatment for 1 in 8 youth, with nearly 6 percent of cases  (just less than half of confirmed reports) involving children ages 5 and under.  The brief also notes that studies of child abuse and maltreatment that rely on self-reports rather than substantiated reports indicate a rate of up to 40 percent.

The Child Trends brief Preventing Violence: Understanding and addressing determinants of youth violence in the United States reviewed relevant research on interventions and policy approaches to reducing youth violence, with an emphasis on individual, family and school/community factors.  This review identified several predictors of violence, including domestic violence, dysfunctional parenting, gun availability, low self-control, and lack of connectedness to school.  Child maltreatment, however, was a strong predictor of nearly every type of violence.  The prevention of child abuse and provision of interventions to address the impact of such trauma appear to be critical actions in reducing the potential of future violence.  That said, although child maltreatment is a risk factor for criminal behavior, the longer term negative effects of that experience may be offset or amplified by other life events. Completing high school/getting a GED and getting married were two factors identified by a research team at the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington as having a positive impact on a person’s life, thus reducing the power of the relationship between the maltreatment and future high risk behaviors.  A history of maltreatment combined with additional risk factors, such as poverty, increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.

As safety and health are essential factors in optimal child development, and may affect a multitude of life outcomes, new strategies have emerged to better identify and “triage” high-risk situations.  States are turning to the big data playbook to assist in investigations of abuse and maltreatment, using predictive analysis to help prioritize reports and better provide preventive services. Information such as family history, school reports and other administrative data, plus case officer knowledge, gives child welfare decision-makers more (if not necessarily better) data to guide the use of resources for the protection of children. Along with Connecticut, Florida, and Los Angeles County, Allegheny County here in western Pennsylvania is utilizing predictive analytics in an effort to reduce child maltreatment, abuse, and fatalities.  For more information on how predictive analysis is being used in child welfare, see Who will Seize the Child Abuse Prediction Market by Darian Woods and Checklists, Big Data and the Virtues of Human Judgement by Holden Slattery, both in The Chronicle of Social Change.