Moving Teenage Parents into Self-Sufficiency: Lessons from Recent Demonstrations, Final Report



Final Report Summarizing this Demonstration and Two Others, Summary

Lessons From Recent Demonstrations

September 1998

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:


  1. Mandatory participation requirements and needed support services can be implemented successfully for teenage parents on a large scale at a reasonable cost.
  2. Establishing clear expectations for participation in education or employment-related activities and financial consequences for not meeting them can promote teenage parents' participation when backed up by case management and support services.
  3. Offering expanded educational opportunities may be necessary, because the opportunities currently available to teenage parents often fail to address their educational needs.
  4. More clinical and sustained family planning services may be necessary to encourage and enable teenage mothers to delay having another child.
  5. Children of teenage mothers have not been harmed when their mothers have been required to participate in out-of-home activities (and provided needed child care assistance).

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.)

Findings on:

  1. Participation
  2. Education
  3. Employment
  4. Second Births, and
  5. Child Well-Being



Linking cash assistance to program participation increases the level of self-sufficiency-oriented activities when the participation mandates are combined with support services.

  • The Teenage Parent Demonstration (TPD) reached 89 percent of all teenage parents on welfare in the demonstration sites through case management, the provision of support services, and the heavy use of sanctions.  It increased rates of school attendance, job training, and employment while the programs were operating.  The increases in activity levels faded after the programs ended, however.
  • Ohio's Learning, Earning, and Parenting Program (LEAP) increased teenage parents' school and GED program attendance significantly during the first year after they entered the program.  It also increased the rates at which they completed 9th, 10th, and 11th grade during the first three years after program entry.


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.

  • The voluntary New Chance programs found client recruitment challenging, despite their extensive service offerings.
  • The New Chance programs increased young parents' participation in education and skills training substantially during the first six months after they entered the program.  The increases became much smaller and eventually disappeared as participants dropped out, however.


Child Care

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.

  • TPD increased both the percentage of mothers who used child care and the amount of care they used.  Although the use of all types of care increased, the use of child care centers increased proportionately more.  Still, many of the teenage parents who engaged in out-of-home activities chose to rely on free relative care.  TPD also increased the average number of months and hours per week that mothers used child care.(11)
  • New Chance lowered the age of entry into child care and increased the use of child care centers (9 of the 16 programs offered regular, on-site center-based care).  It also increased the number of different child care arrangements children experienced.



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.

  • TPD increased school and GED program enrollment, but it did not improve average reading or math skills.  Only one of the three TPD programs increased the high school graduation rate.
  • LEAP increased attendance and grade attainment but did not increase high school graduation rates.  It increased GED attainment only among those who were initially enrolled in school or a GED program.
  • New Chance increased GED attainment, but it reduced high school graduation rates.  It did not increase average reading skills.



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.

  • After four years of operation, the TPD programs ended and their impacts faded.  The TPD programs increased employment and earnings while the teenage mothers were subject to the participation requirements and received support services (for an average of two and a half years).  These impacts faded, however, once the teenagers were transitioned back to the regular welfare policies, which did not link cash assistance to activity levels and did not offer the same level of support services.
  • LEAP increased short-term employment levels and earnings for teenagers who were in school when they entered LEAP, but these impacts faded once the teenage parents aged out of LEAP and were no longer affected by its financial incentives.
  • New Chance had no long-term impacts on employment, earnings, income, or welfare receipt.


Second Births

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.

  • TPD had no consistent significant impacts on pregnancies and births during the evaluation.  Only the site with the most intensive family planning workshops and the smallest average caseloads succeeded in reducing the average number of pregnancies and births in the long term, and, then, by quite small amounts.
  • By three years after program entry, LEAP had no significant impact on subsequent births.
  • Overall, New Chance had no significant impacts on subsequent pregnancies or births.  Two sites with relatively more intensive family planning components delayed subsequent pregnancies significantly, but longer-term birth rates were not affected.


Child Well-Being

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.)

  • TPD focused primarily on improving teenage parents' economic self-sufficiency.  TPD was adult-focused, and improving child well-being was not a major goal of the demonstration.  Although TPD did not provide intensive services directly to children, it did provide parenting workshops of varying durations and intensities and helped participants who needed child care select an arrangement.  Mothers' participation in program activities and the resulting increase in their use of child care neither harmed the children nor enhanced their development and well-being.  In one site, a few statistically significant negative impacts on children were observed, but they were very small and not developmentally meaningful.
  • New Chance attempted to improve children's well-being by helping participants arrange appropriate child care, making referrals for health care, and offering parenting education classes.  All sites were expected to ensure that participants had child care compatible with program participation, and nine sites offered regular, on-site child care.(12)  But these services did not improve the home environment parents provided for their children, nor did the services influence the children's cognitive development.  The evaluation found small negative impacts on children's social-emotional development, based on mothers' reports of their children's behavior, but no significant impacts on teachers' assessments of children's academic performance and school adjustment.


Lessons Learned



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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