Design, Sites, and Data Sources
Family Rewards 2.0 was tested in the Bronx, New York, and Memphis, Tennessee. The idea behind including another city in the replication effort was to make the findings, across both cities together, more relevant to the broader national population. By running the program again in New York City, the program designers expected the evaluation could answer whether the changed model worked better in a similar context. By adding Memphis, the evaluation could also assess how the model worked outside of New York City, in a very different economic and social context.
The program was evaluated using a randomized controlled trial. In each city, about 1,200 families were recruited for the study. Half were randomly assigned to a program group, offered Family Rewards, and half were assigned to a control group, not offered the program. The program targeted families with at least one child entering ninth grade or tenth grade. Once enrolled in Family Rewards 2.0, however, all of the family’s school-age children became eligible for the health-related rewards. The program also targeted recipients of benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”) in order to get resources to the neediest families and to explore how a CCT approach might interact with and complement these safety net programs.
Children’s Aid Society managed the operations of Family Rewards 2.0 and provided technical assistance and oversight to the four Neighborhood Partner Organizations (NPOs) selected to implement the program. The NPOs were charged with implementing core components of the program. They recruited and enrolled families into the research sample, oriented families to the program, and provided continuing guidance to help families earn rewards.
The evaluation of Family Rewards included two major components:
- Impact analysis. This analysis examined the program’s effects on a wide range of outcomes, including children’s school performance; family health care practices and health outcomes; parents’ employment and training outcomes; and family income, benefit receipt, poverty, material hardship, and quality of life. Data sources include administrative records on students’ school performance, parents’ employment and earnings, and families’ receipt of benefits. A survey was administered to families 24 months after study entry, capturing program experiences, income and material hardship, and other outcomes.
- Implementation and process analysis. This analysis explored the operations of Family Rewards, focusing particularly on the roles and experiences of the implementing institutions and on the perceptions and experiences of the participating families. Data for this analysis include observations of program activities (including family guidance sessions), interviews with advisors at the NPOs and Children’s Aid Society, focus groups with adult and high school student participants, a review of all program materials, a case-file review to analyze the implementation of the Family Earning Plans, and an analysis of the management information system and payment-processing data.
The first report from the project assessed the implementation of Family Rewards 2.0 over the first two years, finding that it was operating generally as envisioned in both cities by the middle of Year 2, after a few recruitment and start-up challenges. The family guidance component evolved considerably over time, becoming much more intensive during Year 2. Families also seemed to have understood the program fairly well and earned on average more than $2,000 in rewards in Year 2.
The final report examined effects through Year 4. The findings showed that the new program achieved many of the same effects as the original model, but fell short in other, important ways. Family Rewards 2.0 met its short-term goals of increasing income and reducing poverty, although the effects were smaller, given that less money was transferred overall. The program also increased dental visits and adults’ self-reported health status. However, the new program did not affect students’ school progress through Year 4. Overall, the findings indicate that Family Rewards 2.0 did not lead to bigger or more widespread effects.