Building Self-Sufficiency Among Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Target Population and Study Sample


The target population for the demonstration consisted of all teenagers who, for the first time, were parents and receiving AFDC (either as the head of their own cases or as "minor" mothers) or, in Illinois only, had no children but were in the third trimester of a pregnancy and receiving AFDC.  Of the nearly 6,000 eligible individuals who were identified in the three demonstration sites, 5297 (89 percent) completed intake (Table ES-1).  About half were then selected at random to participate in the demonstration programs (receiving enhanced services); the others served as a control group (receiving regular services).

Camden Newark Chicago TOTAL
Sample Sizes
Eligibile Teenage Mothers 1,256 1,346 3,360 5,962
Completed Intake 1,281 1,190 2,889 5,297
Attemped Follow-Up Survey and Basic Skills Retest 1,218 1,190 2,151 4,559
Completed Follow-Up Survey 1,057 971 1,839 3,867
Completed Basic Skills Retest 836 743 1,484 3,063
Response Rates (%)
Completed Intake 98 88 86 89
Completed Follow-Up Survey 87 82 85 85
Completed Basic Skills Retest 69 62 69 67

NOTE:  Follow-up surveys and basic skills retests were attemped with all sample members who completed intake in Camden and Newark, but with only a randomly selected 75 percent of those who completed intake in Chicago.

Information Sources

Data for the evaluation came from site observations, interviews with program staff, program data, state records data, and interviews with the sample members.  Sample members completed a group-administered baseline survey and took a basic skills test at intake.  The program experiences of all young mothers in the enhanced-services group were monitored through automated case-tracking systems.

Information on outcome measures was obtained through follow-up surveys and retests with those in the enhanced- and regular-services groups (Table ES-1).  Follow-up surveys were completed with 85 percent of those in the follow-up survey sample, which included the full baseline sample in Camden and Newark and a representative 75 percent of the Chicago baseline sample.  Basic skills retests were completed with 67 percent of the follow-up sample.  Data on welfare and earnings were obtained from administrative records for the full study sample, including the 11 percent of eligible teenage mothers who failed to complete intake.  Child support data were obtained from administrative data only for those who completed intake.

A substantial amount of qualitative data complemented this quantitative information.  We conducted regular program monitoring visits throughout the demonstration.  We also systematically gathered information about the experience, characteristics, and problems of the young mothers in the sample and the efforts of those in the enhanced-services group to deal with program participation requirements.  Focus groups with the young mothers (88 sample members), in-depth semi-structured interviews (70 sample members), and case conferences with program staff (focusing on 46 enhanced-services group members) provided the opportunity to collect this information.

Characteristics of the Target Population

As a group, participants were young and had substantial educational deficits when they arrived at the programs (Table ES-2).  About 30 percent of the mothers had dropped out before completing high school, and most of those still in school were behind grade level.  More than half of the young mothers had some work experience before enrolling in the demonstration, but most of this employment had been short term and at low wages.

Camden  Newark  Chicago  TOTAL
Age (Percent)
--Age 17 or younger 46.5 29.6 21.6 29.1
--18 or older 53.4 70.4 78.5 70.9
Race/Ethnicity (Percent)
--Hispanic 37.5 25.4 5.1 17.0
--Black, non-Hispanic 56.3 71.8 85.0 75.5
--White, non-Hispanic 6.2 2.8 9.9 7.5
Separated, Widowed, or Divorced (Percent) 8.0 4.7 2.7 4.3
Average Number in Household 4.9 4.8 4.6 4.7
Average Age of Youngest Child (Months) 7.8 12.0 9.3 9.6
Living with Parent (Percent) 46.2 53.4 46.1 47.7
Welfare Household During Childhood (Percent) 69.0 69.2 66.0 61.9
Attending School at Intake (Percent) 46.5 36.8 45.3 43.7
Completed High School/GED (Percent) 21.2 26.1 40.0 32.7
Non-English-Speaking (Percent) 8.6 5.2 0.2 3.2
Basic Skills
--Reading grade equivalent 7.4 7.5 8.4 8.0
--Math grade equivalent 7.6 8.1 7.8 7.8
--Ever Held a Job Percent 49.4 55.4 50.9 51.6

Sample Size 1,218 1,190 2,889 5,297

SOURCE:  Program Intake Forms.

All of these young mothers faced significant barriers to self-sufficiency simply by virtue of their living arrangements.  Many had left their parents' homes and were receiving no support from the fathers of their children.  Almost all lived in poverty, often in dangerous neighborhoods.  Moreover, they had relatively few role models in their communities to guide them toward social and economic independence.

Most were identified and brought into the program when their children were still infants.  Thus, for many, child care was perceived as a major barrier to participation in the programs.  Although the program helped participants find and pay for child care, resistance to considering care by nonrelatives was high, primarily because the young mothers felt they could never trust a stranger to care for their children.

Most of the young mothers in the focus groups agreed that future childbearing should be either postponed for a long time or avoided altogether.  Many, however, acknowledged having problems with using effective birth control consistently.

Only a handful of mothers in the sample cooperated with the child support enforcement agency, even though sizable numbers were in contact with the fathers of their children and many received support from them.  Even those who received modest informal support from the fathers, however, generally felt it was in their best interest to resist cooperation with the enforcement agency.