Barriers to Self-Sufficiency and Avenues to Success Among Teenage Mothers. In-Depth Study


This in-depth study provides intensive, qualitative information about the experiences, characteristics, and problems of the young mothers in the demonstration and their efforts to deal with program participation requirements.  The underlying question is: What is it about these young mothers' lives that drives them toward long-term welfare dependency, and what are the possibilities for diverting them from this path?

The study used focus group interviews, personal in-depth interviews, and case conferences with case managers and other program staff to discuss specific cases, probing deeply into areas that are difficult to tap through standard survey procedures.  These areas included the motivations these young women have to become self-sufficient; their attitudes toward work, welfare, marriage, and child rearing; their expectations and goals for the future; the barriers they encounter in attempting to achieve those goals; and their patterns of response to the program obligations and services.

Fifteen focus groups were conducted in late 1988 with young mothers drawn from the larger Teenage Parent Demonstration research sample of nearly 6,000 young mothers: six in Chicago, five in Camden, and four in Newark.  In addition, one focus group was conducted with fathers of children whose mothers were in the primary research sample.

In the fall of 1989, in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted with 70 sample members in Chicago and Camden (35 per site) -- generally in the young mothers' homes.  To the extent possible, respondents were recruited from those participating in focus groups the previous year.

The final major source of information for the in-depth study was derived from an intensive review early in 1991 of 12 to 15 cases from the enhanced-services group in each of the three sites.  We first reviewed fully all materials in the case files of those selected.  Then, we convened two-day case conference sessions at each site to discuss the selected cases in detail with members of the program staff.  The cases selected for review were chosen to ensure that they represented a variety of experiences and circumstances and included young mothers whose lives had been redirected by the programs, as well as clients whom the programs did not seem to help.

Although the young women in the in-depth study were not randomly selected from the larger research sample, their background characteristics were generally very similar.  In all samples, the majority of teenagers were never-married, black mothers who had become pregnant prior to their eighteenth birthday and had not yet completed high school.  The average reading score for all groups was below the eighth-grade level.  The focus-group and in-depth interview subsamples tended to over-represent sample members in less adverse circumstances -- probably because participation in the in-depth study was voluntary and demanded significant time commitments.  Conversely, the case conference subsample tended to over-represent highly disadvantaged teens, probably because the program staff were explicitly asked to include some cases with whom they judged they had been "unsuccessful."