Session: Supporting Low-Income Families with Young Children: A Longitudinal Study of Service Use in Palm Beach County, FL (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

35 Supporting Low-Income Families with Young Children: A Longitudinal Study of Service Use in Palm Beach County, FL

Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Symposium Organizer:

Julie Spielberger, PhD, University of Chicago
Friday, January 15, 2010: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Pacific Concourse A (Hyatt Regency)
During the past several decades, much progress has been made in understanding the ecological and cultural context for children's development and, in particular, the harmful effects of poverty on their development. At the same time, a variety of prevention and early intervention strategies have been designed to ameliorate or moderate the effects of poverty. Increasingly, comprehensive systems of health, educational, and social services have been viewed as a promising strategy for supporting healthy family functioning and child development in low-income, at risk families. However, the effects of these services are often modest at best. One challenge for these programs is effectively screening and assessing the needs of families to ensure that services are targeted to their needs and provided efficiently and effectively. Another challenge is engaging families in services long enough to obtain benefits from high quality services. This symposium presents findings from a mixed methods, longitudinal study of a system of prevention and early intervention services for families of young children in targeted low-income communities in Florida's Palm Beach County. The service system, developed by the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County in collaboration with other stakeholders, includes Healthy Beginnings, a network of home visiting and other maternal and child health services, family support and parent education services, and initiatives to improve child care quality.

To date, few studies have examined the use of a system of services or the broader ecological and cultural context for service use, which includes the beliefs and values underlying decisions to use services. This study was designed to examine use of a broad array of health, educational, and social services by families in targeted low-income communities, patterns of service use over time, barriers and facilitators of service use, and how service use is related to family functioning, child development, and school readiness. Study methods include (1) an 8-year administrative data study on service use and key outcomes of a cohort of over 12,000 children born in the targeted areas during 2004-2005; (2) a 5-year study of a baseline sample of 530 families, employing annual in-person surveys and linked administrative data; and (3) a 3-year qualitative study of a subsample of 45 families.

This symposium will present four years of findings on the effectiveness of the Healthy Beginnings system in identifying mothers with service needs and linking them to other services (paper 1), the barriers and facilitators of service use (paper 2), and how service use is affected by families' household context and daily lives (paper 3). With an outside practitioner (TBD) as discussant, we will discuss the policy and practice implications of findings indicating that although mothers with more needs are more likely to receive services, many families in the targeted communities appeared to be receiving only some of the services they were eligible for. Improving the service system will require more effective screening of families, new ways to engage “hard-to-reach” families, more flexibility in service delivery, and better data systems to monitor service use over time.

* noted as presenting author
Stability of Household Arrangements as a Context for Service Use
Marcia Gouvea, MA, University of Chicago; Carolyn Winje, University of Chicago; Molly Scannell, BS, University of Chicago
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