The research goal of Project GAIN (Getting Access to Income Now) is to address the question: “How much maltreatment prevention can be achieved by intervening with at-risk families around economic stressors?” To date, there has been no rigorous research designed to test this critical policy question. If we knew whether and the extent to which economic support interventions reduce child maltreatment, and for whom such interventions are most effective, this would bring enormous value to efforts to design more effective prevention programming.
Project GAIN was temporarily offered as a program to assist families at risk for child maltreatment in accessing economic resources, reducing financial stressors, and increasing income stability to reseach the relationship between economic stressors and child maltreatment. Despite the wealth of evidence that family income and poverty status are correlated with child maltreatment, it is unknown whether economic factors play a causal role in this association. Project GAIN was initiated as a means to seek to prevent child abuse and neglect solely by providing families with economic supports.
Overview of Project GAIN Model
The focal population for the GAIN research were Milwaukee families reported to and investigated by child protective services (CPS) who do not receive ongoing services (i.e., cases closed following an investigation). Rates of re-report among families deflected from CPS are estimated between 25-20% and many of these families will eventually have CPS cases opened.
Families who voluntarily choose to participate in GAIN work with a Financial Advocate for 8-10 weeks. GAIN services include (1) a comprehensive eligibility assessment for an array of public and private economic supports, and assistance accessing these resources, (2) financial decision-making assistance - collaborative work with a GAIN financial support specialist to identify financial goals and steps to achieve them, and improve financial decision-making, and (3) access to one-time emergency cash supplements to alleviate immediate financial stressors.
The combination of these three “pillars” of the model are predicted to increase family economic stability and income level, which in turn are predicted to improve overall family functioning (e.g., reduced parenting stress and mental health problems, improved parenting skills and self-efficacy). The intention is that families may experience declines in the risk of child maltreatment because of increased resources for basic needs and/or indirect changes in family functioning.
The Financial Advocates found that the majority of clients who decided to participate were highly motivated to engage in this planning. The Financial Advocates focused mostly on high need issues, including challenges with rent, energy bills, or employment. Most (70%) clients receive some sort of monetary benefit during their participation in the program. Preliminary findings, using only administrative data, show a reduction in child maltreatment recurrence, which is measured as substantiated CPS re-reports, among various participant subgroups of treatment versus control group families.
The direct service aspect of the Project GAIN research ended in 2016. The project included approximately 5,000 families who were randomized between October 2011 and September 2016 and a subset of over 700 who completed a pre and post survey. Data is currently being analyzed and preliminary findings are anticipated to be released in 2019.