In contrast to many small-scale, voluntary programs for teenage parents, the intent of the Teenage Parent Demonstration -- and of provisions of the adolescent parent provisions of the Family Support Act -- is to serve all teenage parents who meet program criteria. These programs must therefore incorporate systematic, reliable procedures for identifying the appropriate teenage parents, notifying mandatory participants of the first program activity required of them, and offering other eligible teenage parents the opportunity to volunteer for services.
Several factors complicate the identification and referral process. Having income maintenance workers identify and refer eligible teenage parents requires adding still another decision function to often overburdened staffs and supervision and monitoring to ensure consistent application of policy. Computer-based identification, on the other hand, may be hampered by the way in which case and individual data are recorded in the public assistance files. Both approaches were tried in the Teenage Parent Demonstration.
Under manual procedures, IM workers identified eligible teenage parents at the time they approved a new application or added a child to an existing case. The workers completed a referral form for the teenage parent, informed her briefly about the program and the importance of responding to the call-in letter that would be received, and sent copies of the referral form to the demonstration office and the evaluation contractor. Demonstration program staff then prepared and sent call-in letters instructing the identified teenage parents to attend a baseline intake session at an appointed time.(5)
Under the automated procedures, monthly listings were generated from the public assistance computer files of newly approved teenage applicants and case changes involving additions of children who appeared to be offspring of teenage minors included in the case. State or site staff program reviewed these lists to eliminate individuals who did not meet demonstration eligibility criteria and then prepared call-in letters.(6)
Experience with the manual and automated procedures for identification of teenage parents led us to five conclusions about the identification process:
- Early identification and referral are desirable;
- Manual identification requires attention to case detail;
- Manual identification procedures require strong quality control;
- Automated identification requires detailed coding of family relationships; and
- Manual identification procedures provide an opportunity to motivate clients.
Early Identification and Referral are Desirable
Demonstration program staff agree on the value of enrolling teenage parents in the program as early as possible after (or even, ideally, before) the birth of their children.(7) Early intervention maximizes the chances of helping new teenage parents who are still in school or have only recently left school to remain in or return to school, and can promote their utilization of prenatal or perinatal care and development of parenting skills. Whether procedures for identification are manual or computer-based, they should be designed to identify teenage parents immediately upon the addition of their child to the AFDC grant. It is therefore preferable to identify teenage parents using individual case events rather than by doing periodic reviews of the caseload or accumulated backlogs of case transactions.
For purposes of early identification and referral, manual identification by IM staff has a potential advantage, if performed reliably, because identification is not subject to delays in running or reviewing computer listings that identify eligible cases. The demonstration experience showed that the tasks of generating or reviewing computer listings of new teenage AFDC recipients sometimes slipped, with the result that weeks or even months might pass before call-in notices were sent. Whether manual or automated identification is used, emphasis should be placed on minimizing delay.
Manual Identification Requires Attention to Case Details
To ensure consistent identification of teenage parents, states will need explicit procedures for identifying the parent of all dependent child recipients. Identification of teenagers heading their own cases in most instances will occur naturally at application approval or redetermination in any screening process of the sort that will be commonly used for the JOBS program. Special attention must be paid, however, to identifying teenage parents included in their parents' AFDC cases. The way in which welfare agencies collect and record data on the relationships among case members typically focuses on the relationship of individuals to the case payee, and omits information on the relationship between other individuals. Manual identification requires careful determination of these relationships. Although an IM worker may be aware that there is a teenage parent included as a minor in an AFDC case, explicit data codes indicating this fact must be included in the computer database record, if automated procedures are to be used either as a backup or quality control review of the selection process.
Manual Identification Procedures Require Quality Control
Having IM workers identify teenage parents (or anybody who is to be referred to the JOBS program) can promote prompt referral, but steps must be taken to ensure that manual screening and identification are consistently performed. The demonstration experience illustrates the potential value of having IM workers identify cases for referral, but also the potential problems involved.
In one of the demonstration programs, a strong commitment of IM staff to referring teenage parents to the demonstration site made manual identification a workable, although not foolproof, solution. Over the course of the demonstration, monthly reviews of the potentially eligible population of teenage parent applicants and case members indicated that IM workers identified and referred about 70 percent of the eligible cases. Demonstration program staff regularly reviewed listings from the state's public assistance data base to identify cases that had been missed by the IM workers. This secondary process naturally entailed some further delays in referral, at least until the process of entering case approval data to the public assistance data base had been completed. The overall delay, however, varied in length, depending on disruptions in the production of the listings, the availability of staff to review the listings, and competing demands for program staff's time.
The reliability of manual identification by IM workers in the demonstration was clearly affected by the special nature of the screening task it entailed. Although it is not unusual for IM workers to select and refer AFDC cases according to specified criteria (e.g., to the WIN program), demonstration eligibility criteria were relatively complex. Moreover, these criteria required IM workers to identify and refer only some teenage parents. It is therefore not surprising that implementing manual identification by IM staff was quite difficult in two sites and remained subject to some error even in the site where it was the primary method of identification.
Manual identification can be more consistent, however, if implemented under procedures suitable to an ongoing JOBS program that must identify and serve a wider spectrum of AFDC recipients. When a broad range of AFDC applicants is being identified for referral to JOBS -- and not just teenage parents -- procedures can be designed that require all case actions (approval, redetermination, or change) to include an explicit indication of the IM worker's referral decision and classification of the case (with regard to target group status and deferral or exemption decisions).
Automated Identification Requires Coding of Family Relationships
As suggested earlier, more specialized procedures are needed for identification of "minor mothers" who are dependent children in an AFDC case; these procedures may be used either to monitor the consistency of manual identification, or as a basis for computerized identification as a primary method. In three-generation households on AFDC, public assistance files typically record the relationship of each individual to the case payee; standard relationship codes may thus not identify teenage minor parents or link them to their children. Special data fields are necessary to link minor teenage parents to their children and system input edits can be constructed that require entries to these fields for children who are not the child of the case payee, indicating which (if any) other member of the case is the child's parent. Understanding the relationships among case members is a necessary part of the IM worker's job, and clearly necessary, if manual identification methods are to work. Requiring entries to data base fields to record these relationships can provide a basis for monitoring manual referrals or for a more computer based primary identification process.
Manual Identification Provides an Opportunity to Motivate
If teenage parents (or others) are identified for referral by IM workers as a result of their direct interactions, the IM staff have an opportunity to provide information about the program. The JOBS regulations require that they do so. The manner in which information is provided, however, can contribute to or detract from the goal of promoting the motivation to take the required initial steps into the program. If IM workers have reservations about the program services available or the requirements the program imposes, or are poorly informed about the program, the information they provide may weaken rather than strengthen the response of referred teenage parents.
An important decision in the design of the identification/referral process, therefore, is whether IM workers should play an important role in providing orientation and motivation or should be expected only to perform case identification and provide basic information on the program to satisfy the requirements of the JOBS regulations. If IM workers are going to be relied on to promote motivation and initial program attendance, they must be carefully trained, kept well informed of the development of program services, and given clear guidance on how to convey the mandatory nature of the program.