Building Self-Sufficiency Among Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Summary of Key Findings and Lessons Learned


  • It is feasible to design and operate mandatory education, training, and employment programs that serve large numbers of teenage parents, despite the fact that the needs of this population differ substantially from those of adult AFDC recipients.
  • With active monitoring of participation, it is possible to achieve significant rates of participation.  Nearly 90 percent of the young mothers who were identified as eligible for the programs enrolled and, of those who enrolled, 92 percent participated in program activities beyond the initial intake and assessment.  Throughout the demonstration period, the programs kept between 30 and 50 percent of the young mothers actively in school, job training, or a job, while others were enrolled in workshops and other activities preparatory to entering one of these major self-sufficiency-oriented activities.
  • The number of new AFDC applicants who are teenage parents is a relatively small proportion of the applicant caseload -- 17 to 26 percent in the demonstration sites.  Therefore, intervening early and implementing programs to serve this population are not likely to require a significant share of overall program resources.  Furthermore, effectively serving teenage parents as they come onto AFDC could have large impacts on the overall welfare caseload, because of the relatively long expected durations of dependency among this population.
  • About one-third of the young mothers used agency-funded child care.  The remainder relied on unpaid care -- generally provided by relatives -- or paid for the care themselves or with the assistance of family members.  An important part of the child care supportive services component of the demonstration was the provision of adequate information to alleviate the fears and worries of these young mothers about leaving their child in the care of someone else, especially a stranger.
  • These types of programs can promote significant and sustained participation in education, training, and employment activities -- activities that are likely to affect the young mothers' long-run prospects for self-sufficiency.
  • The largest impacts on participation were on school enrollment (12 percentage points) -- a 42 percent increase over the levels of participation these young mothers would have had under the regular AFDC regulations and services.  This finding is in line with the expectation that, within state JOBS programs, educational activities should be the primary activity for most teenage parents who have not yet successfully completed high school.
  • The demonstration programs also led to significant increases in employment and participation in job training (gains of 4 to 5 percentage points -- 12 to 19 percent).
  • Programs for teenage parents can achieve these significant impacts while case managers maintain relatively large caseloads -- 50 to 80 active cases or total caseloads of 100 to 140 young mothers.  The keys to effectively managing caseloads of this size were reliance on automated case tracking systems and routine use of the mandatory participation requirements as a case management tool.

These findings are especially noteworthy for three reasons:

  1. In contrast to most other welfare demonstrations, we found consistent results in all locations where programs were operated.  Not only were the operational findings reinforcing and complementary across the sites, but also the pattern of program impacts on activities, as well as on economic, social, and demographic outcomes, was similar in all three demonstration sites.
  2. This is one of a handful of programs for teenage parents or disadvantaged youth in general that have been shown to have significant positive impacts for participants.  Moreover, none of the other programs with positive impacts except Job Corps -- a residential program for at-risk youth -- shows as strong or as consistent a pattern of results as we found for this demonstration (see for example, Mallar, Kerachsky, and Thornton 1982;  Quint and Riccio 1985;  Polit and White 1988;  Bloom et al. 1993;  and Maxfield 1990).
  3. The scales of operation, administrative structures, and funding levels of these demonstration programs were consistent with those that would be encountered in a full-scale, national implementation of the program model.  This is not the case with most programs for teenage parents insofar as others have tended to be very small scale (less than 100 participants and often many fewer than this), to serve a selective volunteer population, sometimes to devote substantially more resources per participant than was available for this demonstration, and to be operated outside of the welfare programs.  The three programs operated in this demonstration could, indeed, be replicated on a large scale and within the welfare system.