Workforce & Social Policy

The Workforce Development and Social Policy Research Center (WDSPRC) conducts rigorous research, program evaluation, and technical assistance on child welfare, youth development, adolescent risk behavior, job training, workforce development, welfare policy, family formation, and child support. Optimal’s research studies have examined the operations and effectiveness of several major social programs. For example, Optimal is currently evaluating programs at both the national and local levels that aim to promote healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood.

WDSPRC researchers have played an integral role in the Supporting Healthy Marriage evaluation, the first large-scale, multi-site, multi-year, rigorous test of marriage skills programs for low-income married couples. Moreover, WDSPRC staff have conducted a multi-year evaluation of the Center for Urban Families’ marriage programs. In the workforce development area, WDSPRC staff have conducted in-depth case studies and data analysis to identify job clusters for low-skilled workers in American industrial metropolitan areas.

Subject Matter Expertise:

  • Labor market analysis
  • Wage mandates
  • Policy (e.g., Workforce Investment Act, youth opportunity)
  • Child support enforcement
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Case studies / In-depth interviews
  • Fatherhood/paternal involvement
  • Marriage initiatives and family formation
  • Welfare reform and welfare-to-work

Technical Expertise:

  • Experimental and quasi-experimental
  • Performance measurement design
  • Econometric analysis
  • Data analysis
  • Focus groups
  • Case Studies / In-depth interviews


Sample Past Performances:


Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Assessment of Sponsor Tiering Determination
The CACFP provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks served in family day care homes, child care centers, and other participating facilities and programs. Optimal conducted an assessment that provides for 2014 estimates of the number of FDCH misclassified by sponsoring agencies into the wrong tier, and the resulting erroneous payments for meals and snacks reimbursed at

the incorrect rate. Optimal collected and analyzed data from State agencies and sponsors. State agencies provided the lists of sponsors and their FDCHs, which was used for the sampling, as well as provided schools’ free or reduced-price (F/RP) percentages for the purpose of determining FDCH’s eligibility. The Sponsors provided lists of their homes for the sampling, detailed meal counts for each sampled homes, and verification documents for the homes that could not be independently verified by Optimal. The client indicates solid performance but the

Evaluation of Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Participant Characteristics
This study is evaluating the current operations of the USDA’s SFSP. The program supports children’s nutrition through reimbursements to participating institutions for meals meeting USDA dietary guidelines[1] to ensure that children who benefit from the NSLP and the SBP do not experience a nutrition gap during the summer. Optimal is conducting a process evaluation using a mixed methods

approach consisting of web surveys and telephone calls to collect data on all 53 States participating in SFSP, as well as large, nationally representative samples of sponsors, and sites, augmented by qualitative data collection via one-on-one interviews with parents/caregivers of SFSP participants and non-participants. The data collection also involved States administrative data on characteristics and program outcomes for the sponsors and sites, and FNS administrative data on SFSP, NSLP, and SBP participation over time. The client indicates solid performance but the CPARS has not been completed.
Check out some of our previous work.

For more information, e-mail us at [email protected].