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


From late 1987 through mid-1991, the states of Illinois and New Jersey operated demonstration programs under grants from the Office of Family Assistance of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The Illinois program, Project Advance, operated in the south side of Chicago and the New Jersey program, Teen Progress, operated in the cities of Newark and Camden.  Each of these areas is characterized by high rates of unemployment, poverty, and crime.  In the three demonstration sites, all teenage mothers who had only one child and began receiving AFDC for the first time for themselves and their child were required to attend an intake session.  During the demonstration period, almost 6,000 teenage mothers joined the welfare rolls in these sites, and nearly 90 percent attended intake and enrolled in the demonstration.  Consistent with the evaluation design, about half were selected at random to participate in the demonstration programs; the remainder became part of a control group receiving regular AFDC services.

The Program Intervention

Participation in the demonstration was mandatory -- underscoring both the obligation of the young mothers to take charge of their lives and work toward self-sufficiency and the responsibility of the program to help them overcome obstacles to fulfilling this goal.  Those selected to participate were required to develop and comply with approved plans for engaging in activities aimed at promoting their eventual self-sufficiency.

Case managers helped participants decide what education or training to pursue, found open slots in appropriate programs, coaxed and pressured the young mothers to stick to their plans, and counseled them when crises arose.  If the teenage parents persistently failed to participate in planned activities, case managers initiated sanctions until the teens were in compliance.  The sanction consisted of a reduction in the AFDC grant by the amount normally allocated to cover the needs of the mother, generally $160 in New Jersey and $166 in Chicago, that remained effective until the young mothers complied with participation requirements.

All three demonstration programs required participants to attend a set of initial workshops designed to enhance their personal skills, convey information that would help them cope with their new responsibilities, and prepare them for education, training, and employment activities.  Workshop topics included child support, family planning, health and nutrition life skills, family management, motivation, parenting, employment preparation, education preparation, and HIV and drug abuse prevention.

To help participants move toward self-sufficiency, the demonstration programs promoted participation in education, job training, and/or employment, relying heavily on existing community services.  However, they also developed some in-house services, using both their own staff and staff from other agencies.  All three programs offered child care and transportation assistance to address these barriers to program participation.

Resource Levels

For the steady-state operating period of the demonstrations, average program spending per participant was about $1,400 a year; during this time, participants received AFDC for an average of eight to nine months.  These direct program expenditures were supplemented by an average of about $800 per participant in community-provided services, counting alternative educational services, but not regular high school programs.  In all sites, the major share of resource costs (40 to 50 percent) was associated with case management and support services.  Job training was the next largest component, accounting for up to a third of the project-related resources at the Chicago site and 12 to 14 percent at the others.