• 0.19,1.00
  • 0.25,1.00
  • 0.14,2.50
  • 0.12,1.25

TransitionsSF supported unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents in finding and maintaining work with the goal of improving participants’ employment outcomes and ability to pay for child support.

TransitionsSF supported unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents in finding and maintaining work with the goal of improving participants’ employment outcomes and ability to pay for child support.

The TransitionsSF program, which took place in San Francisco, CA, served unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents. TransitionsSF included three stages. The first stage, which typically lasted three months, was a pre-transitional job period, during which participants took assessments to determine whether they required substance abuse services, mental health services, or other services. This stage also included individualized job-readiness training that helped participants develop their soft skills. In the second stage, participants were placed in subsidized transitional jobs for three months. In the third stage, program staff helped participants for a year either with job searching if the participant had not yet found an unsubsidized job or with retention and advancement if they had found a job. During each stage, participants received case management services. Participants also received incentives related to financial and child support to continue participating in the program. In total, participants received services for about a year and a half.

The evaluation of TransitionsSF was part of the Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration (ETJD) evaluation, which also tested similar subsidized employment interventions in Atlanta, GA (Good Transitions); Milwaukee, WI (Supporting Families Through Work); Syracuse, NY (Parent Success Initiative); Fort Worth, TX (Next STEP); Indianapolis, IN (RecycleForce); and New York, NY (Ready, Willing & Able Pathways2Work).

Year evaluation began: 2011
Populations and employment barriers: Parents, Noncustodial parents
Intervention services: Case management, Employment retention services, Financial incentives, Substance use disorder treatment and mental health services, Soft skills training, Subsidized employment, Transitional jobs, Work readiness activities, Job search assistance, Job development/job placement
Setting(s): Urban only

Effectiveness rating and effect by outcome domain

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Outcome domain Term Effectiveness rating Effect in 2018 dollars and percentages Effect in standard deviations Sample size
Increase earnings Short-term Supported favorable $4,016 per year 0.192 994
Long-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $1,736 per year 0.083 994
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Increase employment Short-term Supported favorable 8% (in percentage points) 0.185 994
Long-term Supported favorable 6% (in percentage points) 0.139 994
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Decrease benefit receipt Short-term No evidence to assess support
Long-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $-281 per year -0.102 655
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Increase education and training All measurement periods No evidence to assess support

Participant race and ethnicity
Black or African American
White, not Hispanic
Hispanic or Latino of any race
Another race

Implementation details

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Dates covered by study

TransitionsSF is an adapted version of the subsidized employment program currently operated by San Francisco’s Human Services Agency (HSA) starting in 2009 and funded, initially, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The study, as part of the ETJD, enrolled and randomly assigned participants from November 2011 to December 2013. TransitionsSF provided services to participants through March 2015. Participant impacts were measured 12 and 30 months after random assignment.

Organizations implementing intervention

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development managed the project and funding. The City and County of San Francisco Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) recruited and provided child support incentives for participants. Goodwill of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin provided program services, including Tier 1 transitional jobs (described in the “Description of services implemented” section of this brief).

Populations served

TransitionsSF served unemployed and underemployed noncustodial parents ages 18 to 60 living in San Francisco who met one of the following criteria:

  • Were behind in child support payments by at least 121 days

  • Had child support orders set at $0 or that were reserved (i.e., no decision had been made about orders at that time), because they had low or no income

  • Were required to establish orders within 30 days

  • Made payments of less than $100, not including income withholding, in the last 120 days, prior to enrollment

Within the population studied, 88 percent were male; 67 percent were Black, not Hispanic; and 19 percent were Hispanic. Sixty-eight percent of the population held high school diplomas or the equivalent, and 4 percent held an associate’s degree or higher. Eighty-seven percent of study participants had children who were minors.

Participation was voluntary. DCSS recruited participants by identifying individuals in its database who met the desired population criteria and conducted outreach every month to a subset of eligible individuals.

Description of services implemented

TransitionsSF used three sequential stages to help participants support themselves and their children. These stages included work-readiness activities, a skill-matched subsidized transitional job, and incentives for program participation.

Stage One: Pre-transitional job. TransitionsSF enrolled monthly cohorts who then received an individual assessment identifying their barriers to work; case managers referred participants to services to address any identified barriers. In addition, participants received job-readiness training to build soft skills. Participants received an incentive, $100 a week, for attending job-readiness training.

Participants did not move to Stage Two transitional jobs until they passed a drug test. Participants waited a minimum of 45 days to retake a failed test. During the wait time, they met with case managers and were enrolled in GED classes or 4-month digital literacy classes, each for 6 to 10 hours a week. Stage One lasted three months on average, in part because of participants who failed drug tests.

Stage Two: Tiered transitional job. After assessing their job readiness, staff assigned participants to one of three tiers for the Stage Two transitional jobs. For example, the least job-ready participants were assigned to Tier 1 jobs, and the most job-ready participants were assigned to Tier 3 jobs. Participants worked in one of three tiers of transitional jobs described below for about three months. Participants in Tier 1 and Tier 2 transitional jobs were not expected to be hired for unsubsidized employment, whereas participants in Tier 3 could be hired for unsubsidized employment after their transitional job ended based on performance and job openings. The program arranged for participants in all tiers of employment to attend GED classes or digital literacy classes in Stage Two. Weekly job clubs prepared participants for Stage Three of the program.

  • Tier 1 transitional jobs built participants’ soft and work skills through temporary employment in Goodwill stores and warehouses.

  • Tier 2 transitional jobs exposed participants to public-sector employment to build soft and work skills in outdoor physical labor positions at the Department of Public Works and Recreation and Parks Department operated by HSA. HSA managed and evaluated participants in Tier 2 jobs.

  • Tier 3 transitional jobs provided participants work experience closer to an unsubsidized job in entry-level positions at local businesses of various sizes. Some participants were hired into unsubsidized positions at the end of the transitional job period.

Goodwill paid participants in Tier 1 and 3 jobs $10.24 per hour (minimum wage in San Francisco was $10.55 an hour in 2013) for 30 hours of work per week. HSA paid participants in Tier 2 jobs slightly above minimum wage for 24 to 26 hours of work per week. Participants received an incentive of $75 each week while attending job clubs and making job search plans.

Stage Three: Follow-up. Participants received job search assistance if they did not find unsubsidized employment for one year. Participants in unsubsidized employment received retention and advancement services for one year.

Other services. Participants’ child support orders were reduced below the standard payment for minimum-wage workers during all program stages. Other child support incentives included releasing suspended driver’s licenses and lifting bank levies.

Case managers met with participants and job-site supervisors on the first day of Tier 1 and 3 transitional jobs and maintained contact with those job-site supervisors. Although HSA managed participants in Tier 2 positions independently of case managers, case managers met with participants in all tiers twice a month during participants’ transitional jobs period and once a month after the transitional job ended.

Participation was voluntary and recruitment was difficult both because potential participants were suspicious of the intervention when DCSS contacted them directly and because the pool of potential eligible participants was limited in San Francisco. TransitionsSF began to recruit participants with child support cases outside San Francisco County. The intervention’s Stage Two transitional jobs were initially planned to last five months, but participants worked about three months in these positions.

Service intensity

Ninety-three percent of participants attended the program orientation, 80 percent of participants completed the initial assessment, and 60 percent of participants completed job-readiness training. Forty-four percent of all participants worked in subsidized jobs for approximately 63 days. One-quarter (25 percent) of participants worked in Tier 1 jobs, 12 percent worked in Tier 2 jobs, and 7 percent worked in Tier 3 jobs. Participants who worked in these subsidized jobs received program services for a total of about seven months. Fifty percent of participants assigned to the GED class and 38 percent of participants assigned to the digital literacy class completed them.

The intervention initially planned to provide Stage One pre-transitional job services for three weeks, but Stage One lasted an average of three months because many participants randomly assigned to the intervention subsequently failed the drug test. Some participants left the intervention while they waited to take a second drug test. Participation in Stage Two transitional jobs was lower than expected because many participants obtained unsubsidized employment without working in a transitional job. Some participants worked in Tier 1 jobs even though they were assigned to Tier 2 and 3. This occurred because participants did not want to work outside in Tier 2 jobs or because Tier 3 jobs were not immediately open for placement.

Comparison conditions

Individuals who were randomly assigned to the comparison group could participate in other programs if they pursued them, including DCSS’s Custodial and Noncustodial Employment Training Program.


HSA placed participants in Tier 2 transitional jobs and managed relationships with Tier 2 employers.

Five Keys Charter School provided instruction for GED preparation classes.

Participants were referred to the Family Service Agency for mental health treatment or counseling if they failed their drug tests.

Participants were referred to The Walden House for mental health treatment or rehabilitation services if they had substance use issues.

A large staffing agency in San Francisco placed some participants in Tier 3 positions.

Local private-sector employers partnered with TransitionsSF to hire Tier 3 participants.


Assessment specialists, a job-readiness training instructor, case managers, resource specialists, career advisors, job developers, and DCSS caseworkers provided TransitionsSF’s core services. Assessment specialists had master’s degrees and assessed participants’ barriers and needs, reviewed participants’ work interests and aptitudes assessment, and synthesized this information in a report for case managers. Resource specialists conducted a second intake with participants to learn more about their barriers and make referrals. DCSS caseworkers provided child support incentives to participants such as releasing suspended driver’s licenses and modifying child support orders.

Local context

The intervention took place in San Francisco, CA. San Francisco had a high cost of living and limited employment opportunities for low-skill workers.

Fidelity measures

The study did not discuss any tools to measure fidelity to the intervention model.

Funding source

The TransitionsSF intervention was part of the federal ETJD. TransitionsSF received a federal grant through this demonstration from the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Cost information

The cost per participant in TransitionsSF to the program was about $8,500 (in 2016 dollars), which included program operations, supportive services for participants, and participant wages. The study does not discuss a comparison of costs and benefits.

Studies of this intervention

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Study quality rating Study counts per rating
High High 1