Designing Program Workshops for Teenage Parents: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Promoting Workshop Completion


Demonstration staff in all three sites came to realize that special efforts were needed to encourage participants to fulfill requirements to attend initial workshops.  New participants were often unaccustomed to any kind of daily routine, and in some instances did not quite understand that their participation was really required and would be monitored.  Moreover, dealing with a variety of other needs or life pressure could easily become for them a more immediate priority than attending a program workshop.  Program staff found several useful approaches to lower the barriers to workshop attendance, and also resorted to the demonstration sanction policy when necessary.

Flexible Scheduling Was Important

Flexibility in scheduling was essential in encouraging workshop completion, for several reasons.  On the one hand, program staff realized -- particularly in the New Jersey sites where workshops demanded a substantial time commitment -- that teenage parents still attending school could not be expected to miss school for workshops.  In addition, it became clear that for some participants, daily life crises, lack of motivation or habits of sticking to schedules, and other commitments such as medical appointments could interfere with workshop attendance. 

The sites took several approaches to dealing with these problems:

  1. Deferring workshop attendance to summer months for participants attending school;
  2. Scheduling particular workshops alternately for cycles meeting in the morning or the afternoon, to make it more feasible for participants with other school or work commitments to fit the workshop into their schedules; and
  3. Rescheduling participants for a later workshop cycle when their attendance at the originally scheduled sessions was disrupted.

Help with Child Care and Transportation Was Essential

The availability of child care and assistance in covering the costs of transportation also proved important.  All programs provided help in finding child care providers if necessary, paid the providers, and gave participants weekly stipends to cover the cost of public transportation.  In addition, all of the programs made some arrangement for on-site child care during part or all of the demonstration -- ranging from a special child-care room with a full-time staff person, to informal "baby-sitting" by case managers or other staff as needed.  On-site care was useful for participants attending on-site workshops or other activities, and particularly important for initial workshops because new participants may not yet have had time to identify a provider arrangement for the longer term, and were in many instances still wary of leaving their babies in the care of others.  When on-site care was not available, some participants inevitably brought their children to the workshops, which caused disruptions.

As an alternative to on-site care for the workshop period, program staff can help new participants find suitable child care providers and provide assistance in paying for care.  Given the time and effort sometimes required to make child care arrangements, this approach may not be feasible in a program designed to move new participants rapidly into and through a very short sequence of workshops, as in Project Advance.  In such programs, on-site care is likely to be particularly important to the smooth operation of initial workshops.  Helping with outside child care arrangements to promote initial workshop attendance is more feasible in a program with a more extensive workshop component that may be seen as meriting a greater investment of staff time to ensure that participants will be able to attend.

Judicious Use of the Sanction Policy Was Necessary

Despite scheduling flexibility and the availability of support services, program staff had to rely quite often on the demonstration sanction policy to promote workshop attendance.(10)  The sanction process was used particularly often in the New Jersey programs, where the length of the initial workshop sequence posed a greater demand for sustained attendance and thus created a greater risk of attendance problems before the workshop requirement was satisfied.  Some steps in the sanction process -- either a warning notice or an actual grant reduction -- had to be taken because of workshop attendance problems with about 43 percent of the teenage parents who entered the Teen Progress program in Camden and over half in the Newark site.  Grant reduction sanctions for failure to attend workshops were imposed on 19 and 26 percent of all these participants in Camden and Newark, respectively.  Sanction actions were taken less often in Chicago, most likely because the brief initial workshops made it less likely that attendance problems would occur.  Some form of sanction action was taken with 23 percent of Chicago enrollees, and about 15 percent had grant reductions imposed because of failure to attend initial workshops.

These sanction actions had some success in promoting further program participation.  Of all New Jersey participants who had completed intake by December 1989 and who were sent a warning notice or were actually sanctioned for failure to attend workshops, about half went on to some further participation in program activities -- completing a mandatory workshop, entering some other activity, or both.  In Chicago, despite some ambiguity in the available data, it appears that sanctions were successful 75 to 85 percent of the time in getting participants to complete further activity, in almost all cases including the mandatory workshops.