Young women who give birth during their teenage years are more likely than those who postpone childbearing to have low educational attainment and low life-time earnings. Consequently, they are at high risk of long spells of welfare dependency and living in persistent poverty. Recognition of teenage childbearing as a major social problem helped to lay the groundwork for recent policy innovations designed to assist young welfare mothers.
This report, which was prepared as part of the Demonstration of Innovative Approaches to Reduce Welfare Dependency Among Teenage Parents (for short, the Teenage Parent Demonstration (TPD), presents an in-depth look at the lives of poor, welfare-dependent, teenage mothers living in Chicago, Illinois, and in Camden and Newark, New Jersey. It examines the barriers to achieving self-sufficiency for many young mothers and their experiences in addressing them. It does so in the context of an intervention that required teenage parents to work toward self-sufficiency as a condition of their welfare eligibility and provided case management and a wide array of other services to facilitate compliance.
Through focus groups, in-depth semistructured interviews, and case conferences with program staff who had worked with teenage parents in the demonstration programs, we gained substantial insight into the barriers these young mothers faced and their personal strengths to mitigate them. The prospects for success and the strategies for intervention varied, depending on the school status of the mothers at the time they were enrolled in the demonstration, and the resources available to support their efforts to achieve self-sufficiency.