Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis: Evidence-Informed Resources for Practitioners and Policymakers

In response to this unprecedented crisis, MDRC is gathering lessons from research and from the experience of its partners to share with practitioners and policymakers as they navigate today’s challenging environment and plan for the future. Check back often for new resources.

MDRC is here to help. Our research, evaluation, and technical assistance experts are partnering with nonprofit and public agencies in many cities and states. We are offering free consultations for public and nonprofit agencies to support program adaptation to meet the emerging needs of families, adults, students, and at-risk youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Profiles of innovative programs

Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial of Child First

03/2023 | Samantha Xia, Mervett Hefyan, Meghan McCormick, Maya Goldberg, Emily Swinth, Sharon Huang

Home visiting programs, which improve children’s development and strengthen caregivers’ and families’ well-being, faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper examines a program that provided psychotherapeutic, parent-child services during the pandemic and the effects of delivering those services online or in a hybrid format at that time.

Early Lessons from SUCCESS

01/2022 | Colleen Sommo, Marco Lepe, Alyssa Ratledge

MDRC’s Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS) aims to help more low-income students and students of color graduate by combining proven components into an integrated three-year program. This brief describes the model, the study, and adaptations to the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers some early findings.

09/2021 | Erika B. Lewy

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities in access to and success in career and technical education (CTE). This post summarizes a discussion among teachers and program coordinators about what has changed a year into remote instruction, and about how to make CTE programs more equitable now and when in-person instruction returns.


Join Leigh Parise as she talks with researchers Karin Martinson (Abt Associates) and Susan Scrivener (MDRC), as well as Matthew Brown (Addiction Recovery Care, or ARC), about ways programs continued to provide employment services along with substance use disorder treatment and recovery services during the pandemic.

05/2021 | Erika B. Lewy

The COVID-19 pandemic forced leaders of the Male Student Success Initiative at the Community College of Baltimore County to create an entirely online environment for a formerly hands-on program. This post describes some of the steps the program took to deepen its commitment to supporting and mentoring its students in a virtual context.

MDRC is studying this program in its Men of Color College Achievement (MoCCA) Project, and took note of particular challenges with a required first-year student success course geared toward the experiences of men of color. This blog post examines steps taken by success mentors (program staff members who are men of color as well) to sustain connections between students and support services on campus, while offering leadership and professional development opportunities.


MDRC is conducting a replication study of Child First, a promising home visiting model, that aims to mitigate or prevent trauma for families to promote healthy development in children. Join Leigh Parise as she talks with guests about MDRC’s study and how the program adapted during the pandemic.

Using Existing Services During the Pandemic

03/2021 | Helen Lee

Many families with young children experienced severe strains during the pandemic—unemployment, increasing poverty, and increased anxiety and depression. State program administrators can help by strengthening home visiting services and using pediatric visits to reach families. This brief offers recommendations based on evidence of promising strategies, and insights from MDRC’s work.

A Look at Shifts in Employment Services at Jewish Family Services

03/2021 | Peter Baird

Nonprofit service provider organizations nationwide made abrupt, often improvised adjustments to how they worked with clients when the pandemic swept the country in March 2020. Some shifts, like streamlined communications and adapting technology for online meetings, will remain part of operations in a postpandemic environment, while other adjustments may no longer be needed. Jewish Family Services in Columbus, Ohio, is figuring out which new practices it will retain when more normal operations resume.

01/2021 | Susan Bickerstaff, Elizabeth Kopko, Erika B. Lewy, Julia Raufman, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow

This brief from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, a project of the Community College Research Center and MDRC, presents four case studies on how community college state systems changed course placement policies and supported new placement practices in the midst of the pandemic.

01/2021 | Peter Baird

This post describes the creative adaptations to the COVID-19 pandemic of two employment providers that use the Individual Placement and Support model to help people find and keep jobs despite multiple, serious barriers to employment. The IPS model has been effective for people with serious mental illness and remains effective despite the sharp shift away from in-person support.


In this Q&A originally published by The Duke Endowment, Meghan McCormick describes MDRC’s ongoing evaluation of the promising Child First home visiting model — and talks about finding a silver lining in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic.

07/2020 | Hannah Dalporto, Will Swarts

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced an abrupt shift to virtual educational interactions, which has hit career and technical education programs especially hard. MDRC’s recent (virtual) discussion with representatives of 13 schools, districts, and programs that provide work-based learning found each of them seizing unexpected opportunities amid considerable challenges as they pivot from hands-on experiential learning to virtual instruction and work. These organizations, which offer internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, career mentoring, and other work-related programs, are adapting to keep serving their students. 

12/2020 | Rebecca Schwartz

When COVID-19 upended normal operations at STRIVE, a workforce development nonprofit founded in New York, the Center for Applied Behavioral Science at MDRC documented the agency’s real-time innovations that allowed it to continue serving clients during the crisis. Greg Wise, STRIVE’s National Vice President, shared a first-hand account of the transition.

An Interview with Karen Pennington and Dawn Slinkard


Tulsa Community WorkAdvance is a sector-based training and career advancement program that prepares people for jobs in the health care field. Executive Director Karen Pennington talks about the impact of COVID-19 on operations and future opportunities in health care, and graduate Dawn Slinkard describes her experience in the program.

What Several Months of COVID-19 Revealed in the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration

12/2020 | Peter Baird, Michael Hayes, Sharon Henderson, Tanya Johnson

The Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) project integrates procedural justice (the idea of fairness in processes) into enforcement at six child support agencies. This brief describes the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on PJAC project agencies and parents during the spring and summer of 2020, and examines agencies’ responses.

12/2020 | Jorji Knickrehm, Kyla Wasserman

When Washington state’s Division of Child Support closed its offices in March 2020 in response to COVID-19, its employment program—Families Forward Washington—kept running with minimal interruption, because the original design was based on working remotely. Its model may offer useful pointers for other service agencies for adapting to the pandemic.

Providing Remote Support Services to College Students

04/2020 | Katie Beal, Colleen Sommo, Alyssa Ratledge

SUCCESS, a comprehensive coaching program designed to improve college graduation rates among low-income students, has quickly transitioned during the pandemic. It is offering virtual advising appointments, adapting meeting topics to include tips for distance learning, and connecting students with local resources including food, health care, and emergency financial aid.

07/2020 | Nina Castells

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.

An Interview with Monisha Gibson

07/2020 | Amena Sengal

Monisha Gibson, director and CEO of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in Norwalk, Connecticut, discusses the program’s work with its vulnerable student and family population. The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many changes, but Odyssey has taken on new partners to sustain its holistic community approach: prenatal support, food distribution, and connections to mental health services, and quality preschool programming. Odyssey now offers technology support and continues its preschool teacher training for interested members of its community.

An Interview with Gregg Keesling


RecycleForce is a social enterprise in Indianapolis that provides subsidized jobs to citizens returning from prison. MDRC interviewed its president, Gregg Keesling, about how his program works and what effect COVID-19 has had on his company and employees.

An Interview with Jenny Taylor


Jenny Taylor, vice president of career services for Goodwill of North Georgia, describes her successful subsidized jobs program targeting noncustodial parents (mostly fathers), how it has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it could be expanded to serve more people.

How Child First Is Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic

08/2020 | Mervett Hefyan

Home visiting programs like Child First are a vital support system for families coping with challenges such as homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, and maternal depression. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Child First teams have transitioned to telehealth technology to maintain their relationships with families and provide them with much-needed services.

10/2020 | Marcia Ballinger

In this commentary, originally published in Community College Daily, President Marcia Ballinger of Lorain County Community College describes how Lorain’s comprehensive student success program, SAIL, has persevered during the pandemic — and offered lessons for school’s overall response to COVID-19.

Policy options for recovery

02/2023 | Rebecca Davis, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary originally published in The Hechinger Report, Rebecca Davis and Shira Mattera describe how investing in universal early assessment is an important approach to help communities meet the specific needs of young children and their families.

Head Start’s Family Support Services

03/2022 | Marissa Strassberger, Carol Hafford

This brief outlines how Head Start programs responded to the ever-evolving public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—shifting activities to virtual formats, adapting in-person activities to local restrictions, and maintaining connections with families and community providers.

02/2022 | Ellie Warner-Rousseau, Rekha Balu, Rachel Leopold

As part of a research-practice partnership, the NYC Department of Education worked with MDRC to improve its outreach to families and its digital processes for middle school application during the pandemic. This brief describes what adaptations were made, how families reacted, and what lessons the experience offers for the future.

11/2021 | Sam Schaeffer, Ivonne Garcia

In this commentary, which originally appeared in The Crime Report, Sam Schaeffer and Ivonne Garcia describe how temporary cash grants provided by the Center for Employment Opportunities helped more than 10,000 returning citizens transition from prison during the pandemic. They also share findings about the program from MDRC’s recent study.

09/2021 | Alexander Mayer, Catherine Brown

In this commentary, originally published by The Hechinger Report, MDRC’s Alex Mayer and Catherine Brown from The Institute for College Access & Success explain how research shows that investing in comprehensive student support programs can increase college graduation rates.

08/2021 | Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, originally published in The Hill, MDRC’s Alyssa Ratledge highlights the value of postsecondary institutions in rural communities and describes innovations that rural colleges have developed during the pandemic that could be expanded with more support.

Building on Strengths Students Have Gained After a Year of Turmoil

07/2021 | Jean Grossman, Nancy Duchesneau

The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt many students, but many have also grown tremendously from the events they experienced in 2020. This brief discusses service learning as a practice that draws on the skills and community awareness students have developed through the past year, and that also can help them rebound.

05/2021 | Dan Bloom, Amena Sengal, Frieda Molina

The pandemic has been especially hard on recent high school graduates. MDRC is partnering with several cities to connect 2020 and 2021 graduates to high-quality programs and coaching and counseling resources that can guide them to educational and workforce opportunities that match their interests.

The Case for Investing Pandemic Relief Funds in Pre-K and Kindergarten Summer Programs

04/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Amena Sengal

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Amena Sengal argue that states and districts should allocate some pandemic relief dollars to strengthening summer learning for pre-k and kindergarten students.

03/2021 | Meghan McCormick, Christina Weiland

In this commentary originally published by New America, Meghan McCormick and Christina Weiland argue that states should make investing in high-quality early childhood and kindergarten programs a priority in their pandemic recovery efforts.

02/2021 | Clinton Key

Some estimate that the expansion of the Child Tax Credit could help ameliorate the economic impact of the pandemic and, if made permanent, cut child poverty in the United States in half. But to achieve the promise of these estimates, policymakers should improve the design and delivery compared to the current child tax credit to minimize burdens and barriers for recipients. Here are four research-backed ways to do it.

01/2021 | Michael Hallsworth, Brianna Smrke, Rekha Balu, Rebecca Schwartz

In this commentary originally published in Route Fifty, experts from MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science and BIT North America describe how government agencies can use behavioral science to adapt policies, programs, and services during the continuing pandemic crisis.


In this three-minute video, Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate, describes evidence-based ways to promote equitable access to early care and education programs, a challenge made more urgent by the pandemic.

How Place-Based Employment Programs like Jobs Plus Can Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic

07/2020 | Nandita Verma

Employment programs situated within public housing developments are facing multiple challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With routine operations disrupted by shelter-in-place orders, programs like Jobs Plus can find creative ways to keep their doors open and their clients engaged.

05/2020 | Cynthia Miller

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the nation’s awareness of the critical role that low-wage workers — cashiers, nursing assistants, delivery people — play in our lives. MDRC’s Cynthia Miller summarizes research about how expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit can effectively supplement their earnings and lead to other positive benefits for them and their families.


Leigh Parise interviews MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom about subsidized employment, which uses public funds to create jobs for the unemployed and which is especially useful during economic downturns. As policymakers respond to pandemic-induced mass joblessness, subsidized jobs can be designed to reach the most disadvantaged. Bloom explains how.

08/2020 | Alexander Mayer, Alyssa Ratledge

In this commentary, which originally appeared in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, MDRC’s Alex Mayer and Alyssa Ratledge describe evidence-backed strategies that colleges can employ this fall to help students stay engaged.

05/2020 | Camielle Headlam, Caitlin Anzelone

Students navigating the COVID-19 pandemic are facing new practical and financial concerns about continuing their studies. Colleges can encourage continued enrollment and boost student success by sending well-designed messages that address those concerns, simplify information, and offer support. This Issue Focus highlights proven strategies for communicating effectively.

Career and Technical Education Connects the Dots

10/2020 | Rachel Rosen

The economic recession triggered by the global pandemic has magnified the need for high-quality programs that can help students acquire the skills, training, and postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in the workplace. Here are some programs that studies show improved academic outcomes and increased earnings.

The Critical Role of Nonprofits, Public Agencies, and Social Enterprises

04/2020 | Dan Bloom

The surging unemployment rate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to remain unusually high for many months. The findings from two large-scale studies suggest that public/nonprofit employers are much more likely to hire disadvantaged workers whose wages are subsidized than are private, for-profit employers.

11/2020 | Dan Bloom

In this commentary originally published in Government Executive, MDRC Senior Vice President Dan Bloom argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that it’s important for decisionmakers to make bold policy reforms and to build evidence for future action at the same time.

Tips and strategies

09/2021 | Michelle Maier, Shira Kolnik Mattera

In this commentary, originally published in District Administration, MDRC’s Michelle Maier and Shira Mattera offer evidenced-backed advice for policymakers and practitioners about how to invest new federal funds to enhance the quality of preschool programs.

What COVID-19 Adaptations We Will Take with Us, and What We Will Gladly Leave Behind

09/2021 | Erika B. Lewy

With the onset of the pandemic, MDRC implementation researchers halted travel to programs and transitioned their work to virtual modes. This blog post offers reflections on adaptations they made that are worth continuing post-pandemic and on the in-person practices they look forward to resuming.

04/2020 | Evan Weissman, Julia Schmidt

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 has more than $6 billion in emergency aid for students. Research from MDRC and others points to several lessons that can help colleges distribute emergency aid promptly and equitably, and to the students who need it most.

Practical Advice from Richard Guare and Colin Guare

06/2020 | Annie Utterback, Gloriela Iguina-Colón, Donna Wharton-Fields

This Issue Focus offers guidance to social service programs seeking to help participants progress toward their goals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Techniques are described for alleviating social isolation, communicating remotely, setting and achieving goals, getting medication, assessing workplace safety, applying for public benefits, working from home, and managing grief.


Social services agencies are mobilizing to support clients’ resilience and ability to recover from the health and economic impacts caused by COVID-19. Behavioral science research on decision making in contexts of scarcity, including tests of interventions in social services settings, offers useful guidance for staff adapting to today’s evolving challenges.

Adapting the Evidence for 2020 and Beyond

06/2020 | Rebekah O'Donoghue, Alyssa Ratledge

MDRC has studied a number of strategies for helping students stay in college and succeed there. Lessons from some of these models may be readily adapted to support students and close equity gaps now and after the COVID-19 pandemic. This Issue Focus offers three lessons taken from MDRC’s evaluations.

04/2020 | Samantha Wulfsohn, Zaina Rodney, Rebecca Behrmann

As programs across the country adjust to working and serving clients in the context of COVID-19, many of us are spending considerable chunks of our days on conference calls and group meetings. We’re expanding on our February post that shared ideas on how to organize effective, engaging remote learning communities, with tips for establishing connections between groups that meet virtually for check-ins and training. We’re expanding on that theme with tips to help you run remote group meetings with staff, stakeholders, and participants and stay productive in this uncertain, unsettling time.

04/2020 | Faith Lewis, Seth Muzzy

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, researchers are considering the implications of moving on-site data collection with program staff and participants to virtual settings. This post from the Implementation Research Incubator offers advice about switching from in-person focus groups to virtual focus groups.

05/2020 | Ilana Brody, Rekha Balu

The COVID-19 pandemic has made written communication even more important. The checklist in this post incorporates principles of behavioral science to help organizations assess their current communications and get their point across more effectively.

05/2020 | Mohammed Alkurd

Building connections among staff members can feel especially challenging in a time when remote work and video conference calls make up most of our working day. Icebreaker activities are fun, useful tools that managers, supervisors, training facilitators, and coaches can use to enliven meetings and strengthen team and group bonds. This post highlights some of the icebreaker activities that programs use internally, and some of the ones MDRC’s technical assistance teams use when working with programs. The exercises are separated into ones that work well in short online gatherings and ones that help break up longer sessions.

Supporting Teachers’ Use of Technology for Remote Instruction

08/2020 | Emma Alterman

As the need for distance learning in some form continues due to COVID-19, lessons from an intervention that integrates technology coaching into a curriculum can help schools create support structures for teachers adopting new digital tools and could lead to significant gains in student learning.

An Interview with Bridgette Gray

05/2020 | Alissa Stover, Frieda Molina

The loss of almost 40 million jobs in the 10 weeks since the U.S. outbreak of the coronavirus makes demand-driven occupational skills training truly essential. Bridgette Gray, chief impact officer at Per Scholas, a sector-based training and career advancement program, shares tips for retooling to meet the demand for remote services. The organization successfully transitioned 521 students and 200 staff members to a virtual training environment over a single, remarkable week in March 2020.

Rapid Innovation and Ideas for the Future

09/2020 | Alyssa Ratledge, Hannah Dalporto, Erika B. Lewy

The pandemic has exacerbated postsecondary education issues in rural areas that have affected students and communities for decades, such as the lack of adequate broadband infrastructure. In response, educators are developing innovative strategies that may be applicable to all institutions, not just those with a preponderance of rural students.

05/2020 | Caitlin Anzelone, Emily Marano, Ilana Brody

Expanded eligibility guidelines and flexible funding options can support wider access to child care during the COVID-19 emergency, but only if parents and child care workers know how to navigate them. Agencies can use behavioral science research insights to make communications clear and concise and simplify the application process.

02/2020 | Samantha Wulfsohn, Zaina Rodney, Rebecca Behrmann

One-time training rarely results in long-term shifts in working practices, but remote learning communities can help reinforce new lessons and promote lasting change. Program staff working toward common goals can meet regularly, connecting online and via video and telephone conferencing, and work toward shared learning objectives in a structured virtual environment. Skilled facilitators can act as guides and sounding boards, and ongoing discussions may help staff incorporate new ideas into their work. In this post, we share what we’ve learned about organizing successful remote learning communities through the Building Bridges and Bonds and the Procedural Justice-Informed Alternatives to Con­tempt projects.

06/2020 | Donna Wharton-Fields, Annie Utterback

Here are MDRC’s Top Five Tips for social service and educational programs adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines can help ensure staff members’ and participants’ personal safety so that agencies can continue providing high-quality services and support while working remotely. They also include guidance on protecting participant confidentiality and keeping sensitive personal information secure.

04/2020 | D. Crystal Byndloss

School closures have left many high school students without in-person access to the advisers and counselors they were relying on to help them transition to college. Crystal Byndloss offers resources from MDRC’s College Match Project to help advisers provide virtual assistance.

Three Insights from Research

06/2020 | Dan Cullinan

The COVID-19 pandemic means community colleges cannot administer in-person tests to determine whether students must take developmental (remedial) courses. But some colleges were already using multiple pieces of information for course placement, rather than a single test score. This brief offers three relevant insights from research on these placement systems.

Insights from MDRC’s 2020 Gueron Scholars Program

11/2020 | Erick Alonzo

Can hands-on internships be successfully converted into all-virtual programs in the age of COVID-19? Here are some lessons that MDRC learned when it decided to transform its summer internship into a virtual learning opportunity, plus tips for organizations considering such an approach.

06/2020 | Barbara Condliffe

Implementation researchers can be good partners to program operators at this difficult time — by being sensitive to the new constraints that programs face, by assessing how learning agendas and evaluation plans need to change, and by helping programs learn from the adaptations they are making in response to the pandemic.