Trauma-informed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): A Randomized Controlled Trial with a Two-Generation Impact


Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has limited success in building self-sufficiency, and rarely addresses exposure to trauma as a barrier to employment. The objective of the Building Wealth and Health Network randomized controlled trial was to test effectiveness of financial empowerment combined with trauma-informed peer support against standard TANF programming. Through the method of single-blind randomization we assigned 103 caregivers of children under age six into three groups: control (standard TANF programming), partial (28-weeks financial education), and full (same as partial with simultaneous 28-weeks of trauma-informed peer support). Participants completed baseline and follow-up surveys every 3 months over 15 months. Group response rates were equivalent throughout. With mixed effects analysis we compared post-program outcomes at months 9, 12, and 15 to baseline. We modeled the impact of amount of participation in group classes on participant outcomes. Despite high exposure to trauma and adversity results demonstrate that, compared to the other groups, caregivers in the full intervention reported improved self-efficacy and depressive symptoms, and reduced economic hardship. Unlike the intervention groups, the control group reported increased developmental risk among their children. Although the control group showed higher levels of employment, the full intervention group reported greater earnings. The partial intervention group showed little to no differences compared with the control group. We conclude that financial empowerment education with trauma-informed peer support is more effective than standard TANF programming at improving behavioral health, reducing hardship, and increasing income. Policymakers may consider adapting TANF to include trauma-informed programming.


Journal Article
Journal of Child and Family Studies