Benefits Coach Pilot
The project: There are two interrelated challenges facing health and human services professionals. First, a relatively large percentage of poor families do not receive the public benefits for which they qualify. Second, young children associated with substantiated allegations of neglect are at a high risk for experiencing a subsequent substantiated incident of neglect. These problems are interrelated in that family poverty (or economic instability) and child neglect are highly correlated.
The process: To help address these two problems, we developed and rigorously evaluated the use of a benefits coach to simultaneously (1) increase the take-up rate of public benefits and (2) decrease the risk of repeat neglect. The benefits coaches worked directly with child welfare-involved families and focus specifically on getting families through the eligibility process – and helping them secure the benefits that will improve their family’s economic well-being. The current project represents a collaboration between Michigan’s Children’s Services Agency, Poverty Solutions, and the Child and Adolescent Data Lab. The benefits coach pilot is located in Detroit’s south central field office.
Results: Sixty families in Wayne County eventually engaged with the benefits coach and completed an application for benefits. Sixty-eight percent of them were approved for at least one program, and 32% were denied for their entire application. Primary denial reasons include lack of submitting documentation requested from the assigned benefits worker, lack of attending scheduled phone interview, income exceeding threshold, and in cases of denial related to cash assistance, lack of completing a questionnaire and attending mandatory appointments.
Researchers also matched client referral data with MDHHS records on child safety (new child maltreatment allegations and new substantiated child maltreatment records). The families that applied and were approved for benefits were less likely to be associated with a new report of maltreatment (10%) as compared to families that were denied benefits (40%) or were not interested in help with benefits (19%). Similar patterns emerged for subsequent substantiated allegations: families that applied and were approved for benefits were less likely to be associated with a new substantiated report of maltreatment (0%) as compared to families that were denied benefits (20%) or were not interested in help with benefits (5%).
Joseph Ryan, University of Michigan School of Social Work