Case Management and Welfare Reform in Nebraska

Article excerpt

The Lincoln Action Program takes a holistic approach to moving people from welfare to work.

The Lincoln Action Program (LAP) is currently administering a demonstration program and a microenterprise program to help low-income individuals establish small, home-based businesses. Billy Rae is a LAP participant who found that an in-home child care business suited her family's needs. Here, her twins take a break from their game to pose with two of the children in her child care business.

The question is a familiar one: What can social and human service organizations do when family needs are not met by an ever-burdened welfare system? A four-year, federally funded Demonstration Partnership Program in Lincoln, Nebraska, has developed one solution.

Lincoln was selected by the Nebraska State Senate as a pilot area for state welfare reform. As in other parts of the country, welfare reform legislation limits Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits to two years. Hence, both Nebraska's welfare reform program (Employment First) and Nebraska's Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) Training Program focus on job attainment. Client profiles, however, reveal that many Lincoln JOBS participants face serious barriers to successfully getting and keeping a job. Most participants are single mothers with young children. Some of their many barriers to employment and self-sufficiency include mental health problems, health care problems, substance abuse, parenting problems, domestic violence, and lack of basic living skills, housing, transportation, and child care.

The goal of the Lincoln Demonstration Partnership Program, designed as a pilot for the JOBS Program, was similar to that of innumerable other programs: build on family strengths to help families address and overcome obstacles standing in the way of education, job training, and employment. However, program administrators were highly aware of the poor track record of "forced" employment. In 1994, for example, the average wage of AFDC recipients who gained private-sector employment after participating in Nebraska's Job Support Program was $5.03, or less than half the wage necessary to support a mother and two children in Nebraska.(1) Further, single mothers on welfare usually found jobs in the service sector, where various studies have shown that, on average, jobs last less than two years.(2) Given these facts, the program's challenge was to find a cost-effective and time-limited way to assist these families to truly escape from poverty.

The Lincoln Action Program (LAP), a private, non-profit community action agency, designed its demonstration program to increase family strengths to overcome chronic barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. The demonstration complemented the Nebraska JOBS Program and measured the effectiveness of JOBS Program services alone as compared with the JOBS Program plus LAP, which offered participants in-home case management, education, health services, and other social services. All families were initially referred to the program by Job Support workers from the Lincoln/Lancaster County Department of Social Services.

Case Management

LAP brought a proven case management system to the program, developed through two years of previous demonstration program experience. LAP's first Demonstration Partnership Program began in 1988 when the agency was selected as one of 12 sites nationally to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The primary goal of LAP's first demonstration program was to test the effectiveness of short-term (six-month) case management in families who requested emergency food. Case managers discovered that a lack of food often indicated that other problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse and imminent homelessness, also existed. Family needs were addressed individually and holistically through case management.

The results of a two-year randomized trial (with 199 families in the project group and 195 families in a comparison group) showed case management to be very successful in increasing the self-sufficiency of program families. …