Using Coaching to Address Economic Stability for People with Low Incomes

Using Coaching to Address Economic Stability for People with Low Incomes

The Design and Implementation of Four Employment Coaching Programs, OPRE Report #2023-229
Published: Jun 30, 2023
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Karen Gardiner

Sheena McConnell

Key Findings

The four programs were implemented in different contexts. The programs operated in big cities, suburban areas, and rural areas. Goal4 It! was operated by a TANF agency, while the others were operated by either other local government agencies or a nonprofit organization. Two programs—FaDSS and Goal4 It!—served TANF recipients. Additionally, programs differed in terms of maturity— at the time of data collection, FaDSS had been operating for more than three decades while the other programs had been operating for less than five years.

In all four programs, coaching focused on setting and attaining goals and coaches were nondirective—participants, not coaches, set goals and decided how to pursue them in collaboration with coaches. However, the programs’ designs varied along several dimensions: the scope of coaching; the frequency and maximum duration of the coaching; whether coaching occurred in the home, a program office, or a community location; the extent to which coaching sessions were structured and tools were used; whether there was an explicit focus on self-regulation skills; whether the coaches were paid; the coaches’ caseload; the amount of training and supervision for coaches; and whether the program offered financial incentives.

Despite the differences in program design and the contexts in which they were implemented, staff in all four programs generally implemented coaching as planned. Most participants focused on setting goals and working to attain them during their time in the program. Coaches were generally nondirective. The two programs that served TANF recipients implemented coaching within the context of mandatory work requirements. This suggests that different employment coaching models can be implemented successfully in diverse contexts.

Other implementation lessons included:

  • While coaches generally succeeded in being nondirective, many coaches reported that being nondirective was challenging and took skill to master.
  • Coaches and participants reported strong and trusting relationships, but that frequent turnover of coaches as well as program compliance monitoring can threaten these relationships.
  • Most coaches and participants viewed financial incentives positively but felt that they did not make a large difference in participants’ behavior.
  • The average coaching dosage during the first 12 months of the study varied between programs from 3 to 8 hours.
  • Coaching in the home offered advantages and disadvantages over coaching in the program office or a community location.
  • Nearly all coaches had a Bachelors’ degree, and in three programs they had some experience with coaching or case management. Some coaches had similar life experiences to participants, and this was viewed as beneficial.
  • Programs offered additional services and coaches made referrals for other services; however, participants requested more.

This report describes the design and implementation of the programs participating in the Evaluation of Employment Coaching for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Related Populations study. The evaluation was designed to assess the implementation and effectiveness of four employment coaching programs that aim to help participants identify and attain goals related to self-sufficiency. The programs participating in the evaluation are:

  • Family Development and Self-Sufficiency (FaDSS), which serves TANF recipients and their family members in Iowa.
  • Goal4 It!TM, which provides employment coaching to TANF recipients in Jefferson County, Colorado in lieu of traditional case management.
  • LIFT, which is a voluntary coaching program operated in four U.S. cities.
  • MyGoals for Employment Success (MyGoals), which serves recipients of housing assistance in Baltimore, Maryland, and Houston, Texas.

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