A number of mothers, heading low-income households at risk for or involved with child welfare services in Rockland County, NY, have benefited from a program designed to integrate services from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and child welfare. Using funding from a Federal Children's Bureau (CB) grant awarded in 2006, the county's Department of Social Services (DSS) expanded its welfare-to-work program, Next Steps. Drawing from best practices in both TANF and child welfare programs, Next Steps is a 6-month weekday program that helps participants develop and work toward accomplishing goals in academics, employment readiness, computer skills, behavioral therapy, and parenting. The CB grant expanded Next Steps to include child welfare services and improve child safety, father involvement and family stability and self-sufficiency. Mothers who participate often have learning disabilities that have impacted their employment, and a significant number have not earned a high school diploma. They often lack support from their family and from their children's father, who may be incarcerated or have a history of incarceration. The program's focus on academic, employment, parenting, and relationship goals seeks to address these barriers to family stability and self-sufficiency. Participants document weekly progress toward accomplishing their goals and discuss their progress with Next Steps staff.
Next Steps consists of four components that help participants reach their goals:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps mothers learn to examine and manage their behaviors and feelings, problem-solve, and manage stress in order to improve relationships and develop conflict resolutions skills.
- Parenting education is modeled on the Every Person Influences Children (EPIC) Families in Transition model and includes lecture, discussion, observation, and coaching to improve parenting skills. Mothers complete daily activities with their children and track their children's development with videos and journals.
- Father involvement is encouraged and facilitated by the Next Steps Male Coordinator, who helps mothers understand the importance of father involvement and helps fathers feel welcomed by the program.
- Mentoring is provided by volunteers, many of whom are DSS workers who serve as information resources for their mentees.
While the program has experienced some challenges, including enrollment barriers and resistance to father involvement, Next Steps staff have developed strategies for addressing these challenges. Their keys to success have included engaging participants in planning, co-locating the Next Steps program with the county's health services program, providing onsite child care, and modeling recreational activities, among others.
At the time of the site visit, the Next Steps program had served 35 mothers and their children. While formal evaluation of the program outcomes is currently underway, anecdotal evidence from staff points to positive findings. Staff note that they receive three or four phone calls each week from former participants who want to connect or ask for advice or support. In informal discussions, participants have listed the benefits that Next Steps has provided, including increased support and confidence, knowledge of child development and parenting, and a collaborative culture with the opportunity to make their voice heard.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Next Steps Program" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).