Castells is currently the data manager and an impact analyst for the Head Start CARES study, a national evaluation of three evidence-based strategies to improve the social and emotional development of children in Head Start. She is responsible for managing the data acquisition, processing and analysis of the project’s multiple data sources, contributing to the research design and analysis plans, and coauthoring the impact report. She is also working on the Rent Reform Demonstration, a study designed to test an alternative rent policy that supports work for Section 8 voucher recipients, where she is contributing to the research design and leading random assignment. Previously, she was the data manager and analyst for the Next Generation project, which examined how welfare and employment policies affect low-income children, where she was involved in designing and conducting analyses and coauthoring papers. She also worked on the Evaluation of Child Care Subsidy Strategies, a test of alternate child care subsidy policies, where she led the processing of the project’s survey data, processed and analyzed administrative data, conducted impact analyses, and coauthored a final report. Prior to MDRC, Castells was a case manager at a nonprofit housing agency. She has a BA from Middlebury College and an MA in public policy from Johns Hopkins University.
MDRC PublicationsIssue FocusJuly, 2020
A Better Life is an economic mobility program operating in four housing authorities in Massachusetts. This brief discusses how the program has shifted to meet residents’ dramatically different needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.Report
Introducing the MyGoals DemonstrationMay, 2020
The MyGoals for Employment Success demonstration uses executive skills coaching to help participants with emotional control, stress tolerance, time management, organization, flexibility, and persistence, which are vital to success in the workplace. Research showing that poverty causes stress and impedes these skills informs the approach of this pilot program.Report
Evaluating the Effects of Santa Clara County Housing Authority’s Rent ReformApril, 2020
Amid a budget crunch, the Santa Clara Housing Authority reduced its subsidies to low-income renters in 2013. This retrospective study shows that the decrease did not affect average employment and earnings over the next four years, as some economic theories might have predicted.Report
National Evaluation of Three Approaches to Improving Preschoolers’ Social and Emotional CompetenceJune, 2014
This demonstration tested the effectiveness of three program enhancements implemented at scale that were designed to improve preschool children’s social-emotional competence. All three had positive impacts on teacher practice and on children’s social-emotional outcomes during the preschool year, although to varying degrees and not necessarily in the expected ways.ReportSeptember, 2010
This report seeks to answer two policy questions: whether providing subsidies to families whose incomes are just over the state’s eligibility limit affects their child care and employment outcomes, and whether extending the length of time before families must reapply for subsidies affects the receipt of subsidies and related outcomes.
One of the hallmarks of Head Start is its whole-family approach to the services it provides. This approach is informed by evidence that low-income parents face challenges related to health, safety, and financial stability that can affect their well-being and economic mobility and their children’s school readiness. The Head Start Program Performance Standards ( HSPPS )...
Over 2 million households receive federal housing subsidies that allow them to rent in the private rental market. The Housing Choice Voucher program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ), requires households to pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent; HUD subsidizes the remaining amount of the households’ rent up to a certain...James A. Riccio, Donna Wharton-Fields, Nina Castells, Stephanie Rubino, Keith Olejniczak, Joshua Vermette, Hannah Dalporto, Annie Utterback
MyGoals for Employment Success is a new workforce program intended to help recipients of federal housing subsidies who are not employed find work, build careers, and advance toward greater self-sufficiency. The program incorporates an innovative employment coaching model that is informed by current literature in behavioral psychology on executive functioning skills and...Shira Kolnik Mattera, Electra Small, Nina Castells, Barbara S. Goldman, JoAnn Hsueh, Ximena Portilla, Frieda Molina, Howard Bloom, Patrizia Mancini, Sharon Rowser
Head Start, which serves nearly 1 million low-income children, is the nation’s largest federally sponsored early childhood education program. Designed to narrow the gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers, Head Start provides comprehensive programming during the preschool period to improve children’s social competence and academic readiness for...
The welfare system has been transformed over the past two decades, notably through the introduction of stricter work requirements and time limits on cash assistance in the 1990s. At the same time, government at both the federal and the state level invested in offering financial work supports of unprecedented scope to low-income parents. A top priority on the national...
Investments in child care by the federal government and individual states grew substantially in the years after passage of the 1996 federal welfare reform law, increasing from $3.6 billion in 1996 to $11.4 billion in 2005. As a result, many more low-income families with working parents were able to receive help in paying for child care. Yet the effectiveness of...