The Lab @ DC
Stronger Evidence for a Stronger DC

Can coaching help household with low incomes achieve self-sufficiency?

Can coaching help households with low incomes achieve self-sufficiency?

Project Summary
Cash assistance, work supports, and traditional case management may enable families to make it through difficult periods, but these supports may not be enough to address the underlying barriers to economic self-sufficiency. In 2016, the DC Department of Human Services (DHS) started a pilot coaching program to help residents build life skills, overcome challenges, and connect to education and employment. DHS is interested in adopting a coaching approach for all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) customers in their employment program, but first, they want to know whether this more intensive approach better supports residents. To inform how DHS refines the coaching model, The Lab @ DC is conducting a descriptive analysis and a randomized evaluation of their coaching program.

Why is this issue important in DC?
The traditional service delivery approach has focused on service providers ‘managing’ residents receiving social assistance to achieve desired outcomes—notably, job placement and job retention. While successful with some customers, the case management model has failed to engage many.

What are we doing?
Research suggests that coaching may help low-income residents to achieve personal goals, practice executive function skills, and, ultimately, become self-sufficient.1 In 2018, DHS received a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services to revise, test, and scale up their coaching program.2

We’re planning a randomized evaluation to help DHS decide whether to invest in coaching for all TANF customers. As part of this evaluation, we’ll randomly assign employment program participants to receive either coaching or traditional case management. We’ll use administrative data to track their changes in well-being, education, employment, and dependence on public benefits.

What have we learned?
The Lab @ DC has completed an exploratory study of DHS’s pilot coaching program, Targeted Mobility Coaching. The pilot served 565 customers with a combination of coaching techniques, motivational interviewing, community visits, formal assessments, customized goal-setting and planning, and connections to other services.

There are no findings for the randomized evaluation yet.

[In traditional case management, it’s] just timesheets. [They] don’t ask you anything. [In contrast, in the coaching program] they know you, and you know them… A coach is someone who cares about your well-being. [My coach] is always asking about my home life.
— DHS Targeted Mobility Coaching customer

What comes next?
DHS is using the findings from the exploratory study to improve the program and bring on new customers and coaches. DHS will use results from the randomized evaluation to decide whether to use coaching with all work-eligible TANF customers.

What happened behind the scenes?
We first started working with DHS and the TANF Employment Program through Form-a-Palooza. That relationship has grown, and now we describe adopting a customer-friendly approach to coaching materials as “form-a-palooza-ing” it!


1 Pavetti, LaDonna (2014).
2 Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. Policy Academy for Innovative Employment Studies (PAIES) Grant #90FJ0003-01.