MOVING TEENAGE PARENTS INTO SELF-SUFFICIENCY:
[ Contents of Report | Lessons Learned | Acknowledgements ]
Mothers who have their first child as a teenager are more likely than older mothers to go on welfare, and they spend more years on welfare over their lifetimes. Thus, they are a special focus of the most recent welfare reform legislation, which imposes strict new requirements on teenage parents. State and local agencies charged with implementing these requirements may find the lessons from three recent evaluations useful.
The three recent demonstration evaluations -- of the Teenage Parent Demonstration; Ohio's Learning, Earning, and Parenting Program (LEAP); and the New Chance demonstration -- offer important lessons for states and local agencies that are implementing the teenage parent provisions of the new law. For example, the evaluations suggest the following:
This summary presents the main findings from the three evaluations and discusses lessons that may be useful for the designers of future state and local programs.
Despite recent declines in sexual activity, abortion, and birth rates for U.S. teenagers, the number of births remains high. Nearly one million teenagers become pregnant every year.(1) In 1996, more than half a million gave birth. Three-fourths of those who gave birth were not married, and nearly 200,000 were under age 18.(2) One-fifth had second or higher-order births.(3) Many of these young mothers face multiple challenges as they enter adulthood and strive for self-sufficiency, and their children grow up with significantly higher risks of poor health, education, and economic outcomes.
Teenage parents are at especially high risk of long-term welfare dependence. Nearly half of all teenage mothers go on welfare within five years after becoming a parent. Under the old welfare rules, the majority of those who went on welfare stayed on the rolls for at least two years; many remained on much longer.(4) Most went on and off welfare more than once, spending an average of 8 to 10 years on the rolls over their lifetimes.(5) Even though teenage parents made up only a small proportion of welfare recipients at any given time, nearly half of all welfare recipients were single women who had given birth as teenagers.(6)
Teenage childbearing is an important policy concern because it affects not only a mother's life but also her child's. Research shows that the children of teenage parents are more likely to be in poor health, experience less stimulating and supportive home environments, be abused or neglected, have difficulty in school, become teenage parents themselves, and be incarcerated during young adulthood, when compared with children of older parents.(7)
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) gave states more autonomy and responsibility for creating and administering welfare policy. The new law sets forth clear expectations for families on welfare--a maximum of 60 months of cash assistance over their lifetime (states may set stricter time limits), and after a much shorter time, a requirement for most families receiving cash assistance to work.(8) The law includes a requirement for minor, unmarried, custodial parents to participate in education (if their child is at least 12 weeks old). They also must live with a parent or guardian or in an adult-supervised setting, unless the state determines that an exception is appropriate.(9) Under the new law, up to five states will receive a performance bonus for reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births (including those to teenagers) and the abortion rate.
PRWORA provides incentives for states to lower their teenage birth rates and encourages them to help teenage parents on welfare participate in education and move toward economic self-sufficiency. Thus, it is valuable for states to be aware of recent research on programs aimed at promoting improved outcomes for teenage parents relying on public assistance.(10)
The findings from evaluations of three, quite different programs (see table) serving teenage parents suggest some cross-cutting lessons for state and local staff who will be designing new policies and programs for teenage parents. Next, we present findings in specific program-related areas followed by specific examples. (All findings cited here are from the reports described in the table of Three Large Programs for Teenage Parents, unless otherwise noted.)
Linking cash assistance to program participation increases the level of
self-sufficiency-oriented activities when the participation mandates are
combined with support services.
Voluntary programs can increase participation in education and training among those they serve; however, relatively few teenage parents are attracted to them. Moreover, the increases in activity levels tend to fade quickly as participants drop out.
Child care needs increase and preferences for types of care arrangements change as participation rates in education and employment-related activities rise. The mix of child care services used tends to vary based on the availability of different types of care.
It is easier for programs to increase enrollment in GED programs than to increase high school retention or re-enrollment in high school. Higher rates of GED program attendance and school enrollment may not lead to improvements in basic skills or higher graduation rates.
Modest increases in participation in education and training in the short term are not likely to translate into greater employment and earnings later on, at least when they are not accompanied by increases in basic skills.
Helping young mothers delay second pregnancies and births is very difficult. None of the demonstration programs had consistent or meaningful impacts on repeat pregnancies or births.
Neither TPD nor New Chance had consistent, meaningful impacts, either positive or negative, on children's well-being. (Child outcomes were not assessed for LEAP.)
1. Stanley K Henshaw. "Teenage Abortion and Pregnancy Statistics by State, 1992." Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 29, no. 3, May/June 1997, pp. 115-122. [Back to text]
2. Child Trends. Facts at a Glance. Washington, DC: Child Trends, Inc., October 1997. [Back to text]
3. S. J. Ventura, K. D. Peters, J. A. Martin, and J. D. Maurer. Births and Deaths in the United States, 1996 Monthly Vital Statistics Report, vol. 46, no. 1, supp. 2. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 1996. [Back to text]
4. Philip Gleason, Anu Rangarajan, and Peter Schochet. "The Dynamics of AFDC Receipt Among Teenage Parents in Inner Cities." Journal of Human Resources, vol. 33, no. 4, summer 1998. [Back to text]
5. Myles Maxfield, and Mark Rucci. A Simulation Model of Employment and Training Programs for Long-Term Welfare Recipients: Technical Documentation, Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 1986; David Ellwood, Poor Support. New York: Basic Books, 1988; U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, The Green Book, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993. [Back to text]
6. U.S. Government Accounting Office. AFDC Women Who Gave Birth as Teenagers. GAO/HHS 94-115. Washington, DC: Government Accounting Office, May 31, 1994. [Back to text]
7. Rebecca M. Maynard. Kids Having Kids. New York: The Robin Hood Foundation, 1996. [Back to text]
8. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193). [Back to text]
9. Jodie Levin-Epstein. Teen Parent Provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy, November 1996. [Back to text]
10. See, for example, Stebbins (1997), who presents a comprehensive policy for teenage parents on welfare, drawing in part on previous research (Helene Stebbins. Serving Teen Parents in a Welfare Reform Environment. Washington, DC: National Governor's Association, 1997). [Back to text]
11. The programs increased the use of child care during the first two years after intake by 7 to 14 percentage points across the three sites (Rebecca Maynard, Walter Nicholson, and Anu Rangarajan, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: The Effectiveness of Mandatory Services for Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents, Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1993). On average, mothers in the enhanced-services group used child care for two more months during the follow-up period and used care for an average of three more hours per week than mothers in the regular-services group (Peter Z. Schochet and Ellen Eliason Kisker, Meeting the Child Care Needs of Disadvantaged Teenage Mothers: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration, Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1992). [Back to text]
12. Janet C. Quint, Barbara L. Fink, and Sharon L. Rowser. New Chance: Implementing a Comprehensive Program for Disadvantaged Young Mothers and Their Children. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, December 1991. [Back to text]
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