Using Research and Evaluation to Support Programs that Promote Parents’ Economic Security and Children’s Well-being

Publication Date: February 2, 2018
Using Research and Evaluation to Support Programs that Promote Parents’ Economic Security and Children’s Well Being

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The Exploration of Integrated Approaches to Supporting Child Development and Improving Family Economic Security project investigated the design and evaluability of approaches to alleviating poverty that address the needs of low-income parents and children. The project examined programs that deliberately combine services that are intended to support both child development and parental economic security. Recent advances in implementation science and other fields of research can provide key insights for new programs that may prove more effective than similar programs designed in the 1980s and 1990s. The project was funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and Northwestern University.


The project provided ACF, program designers, researchers, and other stakeholders with information to consider for future investments in programs intended to meet the needs of both children and parents. It involved several activities:

  • Consultation with experts informed a targeted literature review and a scan of currently operating programs.
  • Mathematica identified and described program models gleaned from diverse programs across the country and field work with four programs.
  • Mathematica and its consultants from Northwestern University developed conceptual frameworks to inform ACF’s future work on a program that, by design, integrates services for low-income adults and children.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Research and evaluation can be beneficial to programs that combine services for parents and children. Such research can:
    • Help program leaders create service approaches aligned with their vision for the program
    • Inform the field about promising strategies
    • Eventually, address questions about the impacts of these programs on parents’ economic security and children’s well-being
  • The type of research and evaluation should be appropriate for the program’s stage of development. Most current programs that target parents’ economic security and children’s well-being are in the developmental stages. Thus, the research and evaluation activities most useful for them are descriptive approaches that support stronger program implementation.
  • Program leaders can engage in continual improvement as well as rapid-cycle testing of the improvements to see how they are working. Partnering with researchers, other programs, and communities of practice can also help program leaders develop services that line up with their goals for the program.
  • Programs that are delivering strong services can participate in descriptive research that can inform the field, including other programs and policymakers, about service strategies that engage families and show promising outcomes for parents and children.


The project activities included:

  • A targeted literature review, scan to identify programs operating as of January 2016, consultation with experts, and field work to learn more about selected programs;
  • Development of conceptual frameworks to inform program design and research;
  • Assessment of existing research on programs that provide economic security services to adults along with services to children up through age 12; and
  • An assessment of opportunities for future research and evaluation on such programs.


Ross, Christine, Emily Sama-Miller, and Lily Roberts. (2018). Using Research and Evaluation to Support Programs that Promote Parents’ Economic Security and Children’s Well-Being, OPRE Report #2018-04, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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