Enrolling Teenage AFDC Parents in Mandatory Education and Training Programs: Lessons from the Teenage Parent Demonstration. Characteristics of Teenage Parents on AFDC


The demonstration programs have focused on a teenage parent population that is in some ways more narrowly defined, and in some ways more broadly defined, than the teenage population that will be subject to mandatory participation in the JOBS program.  The demonstration population consisted of teenagers (under 20) who were providing care for a single child, and who were receiving AFDC for the first time for that child.  These teenage parents could be heads of household, receiving AFDC on their own, or could be included in the AFDC case of a parent or other relative.  The target population of teenage parents required to participate in the demonstration was more broadly defined than is true for the JOBS program, in that:

  1. It included teenage parents regardless of their age, whereas JOBS rules exempt parents under 16;
  2. It included teenage parents who were attending school at the time of referral, whereas JOBS rules exempt all AFDC dependent children if they are attending school or training full-time; and
  3. It included teenage parents with children of any age, whereas JOBS rules apply to teenage parents with children under the age of three (or a lower age, down to one year, at state option) only if the teenage parent is out of school and does not have a high school diploma.

On the other hand, the demonstration rules excluded some teenage parents who would have been required to participate under the JOBS rules:  teenage parents who had more than one child when they began receiving assistance or who had previously received AFDC with their child.

Despite these differences, and the likely variations in the characteristics of the teenage parent population across jurisdictions, the demonstration experience can provide some useful approximations of the likely size of the teenage population that will have to be accommodated in the JOBS program.  The demonstration also yielded useful data on the teenage AFDC population, with regard to age distribution, rates of ongoing school attendance, skill levels, and other characteristics.

Teenage Parents are a Small Segment of AFDC Applicants

Teenage parents as defined for the demonstration constituted a relatively small proportion of the total flow of AFDC applicants, and teenage JOBS participants are likely to as well.  Over the period January-December 1988, for example, teenage parents eligible for and referred to the demonstration comprised 6-17 percent of the total number of approved AFDC applications in the three sites.  Since the criteria for mandatory participation in the JOBS program differ from the demonstration eligibility rules, the proportion of AFDC applicants who would have been referred under JOBS programs rules as teenage parents would have been different.  One factor tended to make the demonstration referral rate lower than it would have been under JOBS rules; if the demonstration had not excluded teenage parents who had received assistance before or had more than one child, the number of referrals to the demonstration would have been somewhat higher.(3)  This factor, however, would probably not lead to higher referral rates in an ongoing program.  In a steady-state program, the individuals "missed" in the demonstration would most likely have been enrolled earlier, when they began receiving AFDC for the first time with their first child.

Fewer Teenage Parents will be Mandatory JOBS Participants

JOBS rules would, on the other hand, have resulted in considerably fewer mandatory participants because of the exemption of the three groups defined above, although it is difficult to say by exactly how much, since some would have been initially exempt under JOBS rules but become mandatory participants later.  The way in which these factors would have initially exempted demonstration participants is shown in Table 1.

Table 1
JOBS Eligibility Status of
Teenage Parent Demonstration Participants

All Sites

Mandatory:  School Dropouts, 16-19 Years Old


Exempt:  High School Graduates, 16-19 Years Old


Exempt:  Attending School, 16-19 Years Old


Exempt:  Under 16 Years Old


Exempt:  Over 20 Years Old


Five percent of the demonstration participants initially would have been exempt under JOBS rules because they were younger than 16 when they began receiving AFDC with their child.  Those who remained on assistance to the age of 16, however, would have become subject to JOBS rules, so this factor probably has limited implications for estimating the size of the teenage JOBS population.  An additional 29 percent of demonstration participants would have been exempt because they were still attending high school; some of these, of course, would have subsequently become subject to JOBS requirements if they dropped out of school.  About 31 percent of demonstration participants would have been exempt from JOBS because they had a young child and already had a high school diploma or GED.(4)  As their children age past the three year limit (or a lower limit that might be set by a state), some of this group would also become subject to JOBS requirements, if they continue receiving AFDC.

Based on their status at demonstration intake, it appears that more than two-thirds of the demonstration participants would not have been immediately subject to JOBS participation requirements.  Given the ways in which each category of demonstration participants who would have been exempt from JOBS requirements might eventually have become subject to them, it is difficult to estimate precisely how many would have been eventually referred to JOBS in the demonstration sites.  Assuming, however, that approximately half might have eventually become subject to JOBS rules, we would estimate that in these three sites, teenage parents would have constituted 4-11 percent of the total number of AFDC applications.  Voluntary participation by teenage parents who are attending school or have completed high school could, of course, have raised this rate closer to the observed demonstration rates.  Nevertheless, it is clear that although serving teenage parents is an important element of a strategy to prevent long-term dependency, services designed especially for them are likely to address a small segment of the AFDC population.

JOBS Rules will Hamper Efforts at Early Intervention

The effect of the definition of JOBS program exemptions is to make it unlikely -- for two-thirds of all teenage parents newly receiving AFDC -- that a goal of prompt referral and program enrollment can be achieved.  Later analysis in the demonstration evaluation should indicate whether teenage parents who would have been initially exempt from JOBS -- those who were in school or had high school diplomas -- were less at risk of continued dependency, repeat pregnancies, and other negative outcomes than those who would have been subject immediately to JOBS requirements.

The demographic characteristics of the teenage parents in the demonstration programs, as derived from their baseline intake forms, reveal some of the problems they must overcome and the service challenges faced by the programs.  Given the population definition differences described above, the teenage JOBS population is likely to have somewhat different demographic characteristics, but is likely to pose similar program demands:

  1. The demonstration participants are very young parents.  The average age of the teenage parents at enrollment in the demonstration sample was 17.4 years in Camden, 17.9 in Newark, and 18.1 in Chicago.  The portion of the sample less than 16 years old at enrollment was 10.0 percent in Camden, 5.2 percent in Newark, and 3.2 percent in Chicago.
  2. Many teenage parents on AFDC are likely to be in school.  Over 43 percent of demonstration sample members in the three programs were attending school at the time of intake -- most in high school, but in some cases schooling or training beyond high school (46.3 percent in Camden, 40.1 percent in Newark, and 48.7 percent in Chicago).  A major focus of the demonstration program design, therefore, was to help teenage parents stay in school.  Although JOBS rules exempt teenage parents who are attending full-time school or training, many who have dropped out will be required to reenter an educational program of some sort; program support to remain in school will figure heavily in required services.
  3. The teenage parents had weak basic educational skills.  Overall reading and math skills measured by the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) were at average grade equivalent levels of 7.3 and 7.6 respectively in Camden, 7.5 and 8.0 in Newark, and 8.2 and 7.7 in Chicago.  About 55-60 percent of the demonstration participants had reading scores below 8th grade level, the minimum level often required for participation in JTPA job training courses, and 30-40 percent had scores below 6th grade level.  Even among those who had completed 12th grade or more, many had reading scores below 8th grade level:  39.8 percent in Camden, 44.3 percent in Newark, and 30.5 percent in Chicago.
  4. For many, being on welfare, and being a teenage parent, continue family patterns.  Two-thirds of the New Jersey participants, and 55 percent of the Chicago participants, reported that they had been on AFDC at some time with their mothers when they were growing up, and about two-thirds in all three programs reported that their mothers had had their first child before the age of 20.
  5. Many of the teenage parents have left their parents' homes.  About half of the participants were not living with either parent when referred, although many shared housing with other relatives or friends.  Even among those less than 18 years old, close to or even more than half were not living with a parent (57 percent in Camden, 42 percent in Newark, and 45 percent in Chicago).