Building Self-Sufficiency Among Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Looking Ahead


This demonstration offers important lessons for current efforts to redefine the nation's social welfare policies.  We have documented that states can operate large scale, mandatory work- oriented programs for the most vulnerable welfare recipients -- teenage parents.  These programs can achieve relatively high participation rates and will promote at least the necessary first steps toward self-sufficiency -- significantly increased school attendance, job training, and employment.  Both program staff and the young mothers who were required to participate in these programs felt that the programs were helpful and that the participation requirements were fair -- case managers would say the requirements were essential to the program's success.

Two important questions remain unanswered from this study.  One is whether these early education, training, and employment impacts of the program will translate into longer-term increases in self-sufficiency.  This question is being addressed through a longer term follow-up of the study sample and their children.

The second unanswered question is how much improvement in outcomes could be achieved in programs that can address some shortcomings of the demonstration programs.  For example, still higher participation rates and improved longer-term outcomes likely could be achieved if the programs had greater capacity to create stronger education and training options tailored to the needs of the young mothers; if they found more effective ways to help the young mothers control their fertility -- something most of them want to do; and if the child support system had stronger incentives for parents -- mothers and fathers -- to cooperate and for the agency to focus on this population, which has limited prospects for making significant support payments in the short run.  Architects of future welfare policies and programs should build on the operational success of this demonstration in serving very large caseloads of teenage parents and in sensitively, but effectively, using sanction to promote participation in sufficiency-promoting activities, but also attend to the areas in which the program and/or its implementation could be strengthened.