Designing Program Workshops for Teenage Parents: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Types of  Workshops


Workshops were included in the demonstration program to meet needs that program planners felt would not be adequately addressed by the major education, training, or employment activities.  Participants in Teen Progress and Project Advance were generally expected, as long as they were receiving AFDC, to be active in one of the program's major components:  job training, employment, or education (continuing high school, a GED or adult basic education program, or post-secondary education).  These major program components were expected to help participants acquire basic skills they would need for continued education or employment, and in some cases, specific occupational skills.  However, program planners expected that teenage participants would need help in overcoming much more than deficits in basic or occupational skills.  To help address these other needs, all three sites defined a set of program workshops -- group sessions that provided a forum for instruction, presentations by a workshop leader and in some cases by guest speakers, group discussion, and in some instances films related to workshop topics.  These workshops served three purposes.  First, program planners viewed workshops as a way for participants to acquire important information -- about nutrition, drugs, family planning, workplace demands, parenting, child support, and other topics -- that would help them make sound decisions about their personal lives and choices concerning their futures.  Second, program staff saw workshops as a useful personal development process -- a way of integrating participants into the program, building motivation, interpersonal skills, and acceptance of the program, and dispelling fears about the program.  Third, workshops served assessment purposes -- providing opportunities for program staff to form direct assessments of participants' behavioral and cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Two Major Types of Workshops:  Initial and Ongoing

  1. Two types of workshops were offered:  initial workshops and ongoing workshops.  After completing the intake session,(3)  newly enrolled participants in each site were required to go through a prescribed set of initial workshops, over a period as short as three days in one site and as long as several months in another.  When they had completed these workshops, a "self-sufficiency plan" for continuing activity was developed, prescribing the education or training or, in some cases, job search activity they would pursue next.(4)  Therefore, initial workshops were offered on regular, quite frequent cycles, so that new participants could enter them as quickly as possible after enrolling in the program.  The workshops covered topics that program staff judged to be important for all new program participants.
  2. Ongoing workshops, on the other hand, were used more selectively.  They were designed to meet the needs of particular groups of program participants, and were generally offered less frequently.  Some ongoing workshops -- for example, the Camden site's six-week Pre-Employment Workshop to help participants prepare for the demands of finding and keeping a job -- were conducted on regular repeating cycles.  Other ongoing workshops -- such as those held on AIDS, drug abuse, planning for the future, and other topics at the Chicago site -- were more like special events held once or twice per year.  Participants were generally scheduled into the next available session of an appropriate ongoing workshop when it became clear that they needed and could benefit from the workshop material, and when the time demands of the workshop could be accommodated in their schedule of other activities.  In some instances, ongoing workshops became transitions or preparation for other activities.

Most Initial Workshops Dealt with Personal Life Skills

Program staff at the three demonstration sites designed initial workshops to help new participants direct and control their own daily lives, maintain their own and their children's health, and face the personal challenges of preparing for self-sufficiency.  Initial workshops were offered on motivation, life skills, family planning, health and nutrition, child support, parenting, AIDS and drug abuse, and personal grooming.(5)

The aims of these workshops were as follows:

  1. Motivation/Self-Esteem and the World of Work:  To help participants identify their own personal strengths and self-defeating behavior patterns, recognize the possibility and importance to them and their children of making decisions to improve their lives, take responsibility for their own future, and prepare emotionally for the rules, discipline, and behavioral demands of future employment
  2. Life Skills:  To strengthen participants' abilities to cope with the challenges of daily life and changes in their lives, including teaching them how to communicate effectively, establish goals and make decisions, manage their time and money, and deal with incidents of racism and sexism
  3. Family Planning:  To help participants recognize the importance and possibility of taking control over their sexual lives and child-bearing, understand the advantages and disadvantages of various forms of contraception and how to use them properly, and grasp the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and how to avoid them
  4. Health and Nutrition:  To impress upon participants the importance of sound eating habits for them and their children, teach them economical ways to shop for and prepare nutritious meals, and encourage proper use of medical services and preventive care for them and their children
  5. Child Support:  To "demystify" the child support enforcement process and correct misconceptions about how it works, demonstrate to participants the long-term importance to their children of establishing paternity and a legal support obligation
  6. Parenting:  To help participants understand the stages of child development, recognize and respond to children's physical and emotional needs at different ages, handle the stresses of responsibility for a child, and confront concerns about the use of child care
  7. AIDS/Drug Abuse:  To educate participants about the risks and consequences of drug abuse and AIDS, and to encourage them to avoid high-risk behaviors
  8. Personal Grooming:  To convey information about commonly accepted standards of dress, hygiene, and behavior at different types of workplaces

Ongoing Workshops Were for Participants in Particular Circumstances

Although each of the three demonstration sites covered most of the topics listed above in their mandatory initial workshops, each site also offered certain ongoing workshops for active participants.  In some cases, these ongoing workshops were for participants identified by case managers as having a particular need.  In other instances, workshops were defined to help participants prepare for a new challenge or make a transition.  These ongoing workshops covered parenting, preparation for employment and school, life management, prenatal care, and other topics. 

The workshops were structured as follows:

  1. Special Parenting Workshop:  The Newark Teen Progress site offered an intensive workshop of ten sessions over five weeks conducted by a clinical psychologist and a pediatrician, for participants identified as at particularly high risk of child neglect or abuse.  The workshop had a more therapeutic approach than the initial parenting workshops, although it dealt with many similar issues:  child development, children's needs, coping with stress, and the participant's relationships with her parents and her child's father.
  2. Pre-Employment Workshop/Job Club:  All three sites conducted structured sessions with participants who were preparing to enter the labor market for permanent full-time or part-time employment or summer jobs.  Project Advance offered a three-session Job Club workshop focusing on job search methods, completing job applications and preparing resumes, and how to dress for and behave in an interview.  A Job Service employment specialist attended one session each cycle to begin working on individual job placement.  Camden Teen Progress required participants who were not in school to attend Pre-Employment Workshop sessions daily for six weeks, and supplemented the job search topics with basic skills "brush-up.".  Newark Teen Progress conducted job-preparation in one-on-one counseling with participants who had completed the Motivation/Self-Esteem workshop and were ready to look for a job.
  3. Education Preparation Workshop:  Project Advance offered a three-session workshop for participants who were about to enroll (or reenroll) in high school or a remedial education course or who were having difficulty in school.  The workshop attempted to instill organized and effective study habits, help participants plan time for their schoolwork, and understand the resources available to them through the educational system.  Program staff viewed this short workshop as an important way to increase participants' chances of benefiting from their education activity.
  4. Home and Family Life Management Workshop:  Project Advance conducted periodic workshops for ongoing participants on homemaking skills, time and money management, comparative shopping, and home safety rather than an initial workshop focusing on life skills.  Staff scheduled participants into these workshops if they were between other activities or seemed particularly unpracticed in basic home skills such as laundering, cooking, or maintaining basic home cleanliness.
  5. Pre-Natal Workshop:  Every two weeks, Project Advance offered a three-session workshop conducted by a nurse or a counselor from a local women's center, focusing on proper nutrition and health care during pregnancy, and emotional preparation for childbirth and parenting.
  6. Topical "Special-Event" Workshops:  Particularly at Project Advance in Chicago, short, often single-session workshops were used to present and discuss subjects viewed as important issues for teenage parents.  When commitments were obtained from outside experts to conduct these workshops, program staff reviewed their caseloads and invited participants who they believed could benefit from the sessions.  These workshops were given on topics such as motivation and problem-solving, career awareness, abstinence and other methods of birth control, drug and alcohol abuse, personal grooming, and dealing with rape and sexual assault.