Welfare reform has changed the paradigm of the welfare system from one of determining eligibility and disbursing checks to one where employment is central. In the work-focused system, services are instrumental to supporting clients in their employment and subsequent moves toward self-sufficiency. This type of system requires greater attention to the needs of heterogeneous welfare recipient populations and relies to a much greater degree on case management over eligibility determination.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) Jobs Program recently developed and piloted a new management instrument called the Case Management Screening Guide (CMSG). The aim of the CMSG is to improve case managers' ability to determine clients' employment-related needs and barriers, thereby matching services to needs and presumably accelerating employment among public assistance recipients.
This article discusses the evaluation of DES's CMSG pilot project in an effort to connect known case management theory and strategies with actual employment outcomes of welfare recipients. First, we describe what we know about the case management-outcomes connection. Next, we describe the pilot project that aims to shed new light on the question. We present the research findings and then discuss the implications for future research and policy.
Does Service Approach Matter?
Generally, case management refers to coordinating program services and referring clients as appropriate so they can receive needed services (Segal, Gerdes, & Steiner, 2004). In the context of welfare reform, the years have seen an ebb and flow between use of case management and simple eligibility determination. Presumably, integrated case management approaches are more effective at coordinating services, whereas eligibility determination focuses on collecting income information and computing benefit amounts. The "front-line practices" of staff in welfare offices have been determined to matter in reforms' abilities to achieve change (Riccucci et al., 2004). In turn, we explore here some ways in which those practices matter.
Research supports the theory that welfare programs produce the largest effects when participation is enforced and work is emphasized over education and training (Freedman et al., 2000; Gueron & Pauly, 1991; Hamilton & Friedlander, 1989; Riccio, Friedlander, & Freedman, 1994). Some have argued that the administrative system itself is a key element of reforms. For instance, Mead (1997, 2001, 2004) has asserted that administrative structures can create a culture of expectations that, when communicated to welfare recipients, assists in achieving programs' end goals. Indeed, research on the implications of administrative reforms has shown that they can reduce welfare caseloads (Brudney, Hebert, & Wright, 1999).
Studies of welfare reform's implementation, although often conducted in conjunction with impact evaluations, have not tended to link service delivery approaches to program outcomes (Bloom, Hill, & Riccio, 2003). Perhaps, this is expected, given that the information from these two types of studies serves its own purpose (Riccio & Orenstein, 1996). However, scholars, policy evaluators, and program administrators are becoming increasingly interested in the intersection. That is, examining service delivery in conjunction with program outcomes--or, even better, impacts, which represent the change in outcomes due to the intervention--means that we can be prescriptive about what specific strategies can work.
An important article that makes the implementation-impact link is that of Bloom, Hill and Riccio (2003), who pooled impact evaluation data from several welfare reform experiments with contextual data on the programs themselves. In addition to examining several other program features, Bloom, Hill and Riccio (2003) analyze "personalized client attention" as one of …