CASAWORKS for Families Helps Women Get Off Drugs and Into Jobs

Multi-site demonstration of substance abuse treatment program for hard to employ women on welfare

Field of Work: Helping hard-to-employ women get off of drugs and into employment.

Problem Synopsis: In the past, welfare recipients—typically women—who met certain requirements could receive welfare indefinitely. In August 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, representing the most significant changes to the country's welfare system since it was established in 1935. These changes placed time limits on how long people could receive welfare benefits, imposed rigorous work requirements on recipients and denied benefits to adults who had been convicted of a drug-related felony. Recipients must work when welfare agency staff determines that they are ready or after two years on assistance with few exceptions. By fiscal year 2002, states were required to have 50 percent of all recipients engaged in a work activity for a minimum of 30 hours per week.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1997 to 2007, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, New York, planned and carried out a demonstration project to help women on welfare who have substance abuse problems reduce drug and alcohol use and secure and retain jobs. The demonstration project was called CASAWORKSSM for Families. The project took place in three phases.

Key Findings: The following are findings from Phase 1:

  • Significant decreases in substance use occurred between admission to CASAWORKS and six months; after 12 months in CASAWORKS, close to half of participants (46 percent) reported being completely abstinent from all substances during the previous six months. In addition:
    • Some 68 percent reported abstinence from all alcohol use.
    • Some 78 percent reported no heavy alcohol use.
    • More than 90 percent reported no use of a non-prescribed drug.
  • Participants' employment status significantly improved after admission to CASAWORKS. The percentage of participants employed at least half time rose from 6 percent at admission to 20.4 percent at six months and 29.9 percent at 12 months.
  • While the percentage of participants receiving welfare increased slightly from 72.7 percent to 74.6 percent between admission and six months, it decreased significantly to 58.4 percent by 12 months.
  • CASAWORKS participants demonstrated "an unusual rate of retention for clients with substance-abuse problems," according to the evaluators.