Implementing Welfare Reform Requirements for Teenage Parents: Lessons from Experience in Four States . APPENDIX B: CASE STUDY OF CALIFORNIA


This chapter presents a case study of California's Cal Learn program. Cal Learn is a statewide program to encourage and assist teenage parents receiving cash assistance to graduate from high school or its equivalent and become self-sufficient. The case study is based on discussions with Cal Learn staff at the California Department of Social Services and with Cal Learn and county welfare agency staff in Sacramento and Santa Clara counties.

California's living arrangement requirement for teenage parents was being developed at the time of our visit in early 1997 and was implemented in May 1997. In light of California's evolving policies and limited operational experience in this area, the case study of California's teenage parent programs does not include information on the living arrangement requirement.

The Cal Learn program was implemented statewide in 1994 and 1995, under authority of waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The case study describes the program's operations as they existed in early 1997. On August 11, 1997, California's legislature and governor enacted Assembly Bill (AB) 1542, which overhauled several existing welfare programs operating at the time under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. The legislation creates California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS), which eliminates the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the Greater Avenues of Independence (GAIN) programs. Assembly Bill 1542 retains the Cal Learn program. The provisions of CalWORKS will be implemented beginning in 1998.


Cal Learn, a statewide initiative of California's governor and legislature, is a mandatory, statewide entitlement program administered through county welfare departments. All pregnant and parenting teens who have not yet reached their 19th birthday are receiving AFDC, and who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, are required to participate. The Cal Learn program consists of three components:

  1. Bonuses and sanctions to encourage teenage parents to attend and progress in school
  2. Support services necessary for teenage parents to attend school--including reimbursement for child care, transportation, and educational expenses
  3. Intensive case management to assist the teenage parent in obtaining needed education, health, and social services

Specific Requirements. Teen parents eligible for Cal Learn must participate full-time in a school program that leads to a high school diploma or its equivalent. The state has a wide variety of traditional and alternative high school programs through which teen parents can meet this requirement: regular high school, continuation education, court and community schools, home and hospital instruction, independent study, opportunity schools, adolescent pregnancy and parenting programs, and adult education programs leading to a GED or completion of high school graduation requirements.

Monitoring and Enforcement.

Cal Learn participants must submit report cards to case managers within 10 days of issuance up to four times in a 12-month period. Although the school defines academic progress, regulations specify that satisfactory progress (grade point of 2.0 or "C" or better) results in a $100 bonus to the assistance unit. A "D" (between 1.9 and 1.0) results in no bonus or sanction. Unsatisfactory progress (grade point below 1.0) results in a $100 reduction in benefits. A $500 bonus is awarded the adolescent for graduation or its equivalent. Thus, teenage parents can earn a financial bonus up to $400 in a 12-month period, plus the $500 graduation bonus. Sanctions for failure to attend school and make satisfactory progress can be up to $400 in a 12-month period. School attendance per se is monitored only for the purpose of reimbursing child care costs.


County welfare departments administer Cal Learn. The legislation establishing Cal Learn requires that case management services meet the standards and scope of the Adolescent Family Life Program (AFLP), which is administered by the California Department of Health Services. Cal-Learn case management aims to involve the teenage parent, her partner, and her family, in collaboration with the case manager, in identifying the teen's educational, social, and health needs and in determining how best to meet those needs. The following specific goals have been set for the teenage parent and her child:

  • Obtain the appropriate educational services for graduation from high school or its equivalent
  • Reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity
  • Enhance the teenage parent's parenting skills
  • Promote an effective ongoing relationship among the teenage parent, the noncustodial parent, and the child, where this is in the best interest of the child and the teenage parent
  • Help the teenage parent obtain or maintain a physically and mentally healthy living situation
  • Help the teenage parent and her family use health care resources to achieve and maintain good health
  • Help the teenage parent reduce unintended future pregnancies

After conducting an initial interview and assessment, the Cal Learn case manager develops an individual service plan for each teenage parent, prescribes services to address the parent's needs, and follows up to ensure that the teenage parent receives the services. The caseload of a Cal Learn case manager must not exceed 40 clients. As the list of goals indicates, progress in school is one goal among many for teenage parents that the program promotes.

The legislation establishing Cal Learn directs county welfare departments to contract with an AFLP provider to provide Cal Learn case management services. County welfare departments can make other arrangements if AFLP is not available, AFLP services are not cost-effective, or the county welfare department has an existing teenage parent services program. However, if the county decides not to contract with an AFLP provider, it must establish protocols for Cal Learn that meet the standards and scope of AFLP. The Department of Health Services reviews and approves the protocols.

In each of the two counties that participated in this study, three agencies played a role in Cal Learn:

  1. The local AFLP agency provides Cal Learn case management services, under contract with the county welfare department. Case managers assess needs, identify services, and monitor client progress. They also assist and encourage clients to fulfill program requirements (such as keeping appointments with the case manager and submitting requested report cards) and provide written confirmation of compliance or noncompliance to the county welfare department. The case manager also identifies and verifies a teenage parent's need for child care, transportation, and ancillary services, and transmits this information to the county welfare department. In both Sacramento County and Santa Clara County, the agency providing Cal Learn case management services also operates AFLP, with separate funding, to serve teenage parents who are not cash assistance recipients.
  2. The county welfare department identifies welfare clients eligible for Cal Learn, refers them to the program, and issues payments. It also notifies the Cal Learn case manager when a client is discontinued from AFDC. The county welfare department retains final responsibility for acting on recommendations of case managers for bonuses, sanctions, and sanction-related good cause and for making final determinations for program exemptions and deferrals. Furthermore, the county welfare department prepares and issues notices of adverse action and calculates and issues payment for support services. Some of these functions are performed by income maintenance workers and some are performed by staff in California's Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program. Because Cal Learn is within GAIN administratively, the county GAIN program provides oversight to ensure that program rules are administered correctly.
  3. Public school districts provide education services to most Cal Learn participants. Indeed, state law requires that public schools provide an educational program to all people under the age of 18.

The state provides funding for Cal Learn. For case management, counties are reimbursed $137.50 per case per month that a client is enrolled. They also receive an allotment of $25.26 per month per enrolled client for AFDC case administrative costs. Counties receive reimbursement for child care, transportation, and ancillary expenses according to the same policies that govern supportive services in the GAIN program. However, to counties for Cal Learn, state supportive service payments are not subject to a maximum amount, as they are under GAIN counties.(1) Similarly, county costs claimed for Cal Learn case management are not capped. No resources are allocated for educational services, since these are to be provided by local school districts. In 1996, state planners expected to serve 23,000 Cal Learn clients and allocated $92 million for the state's share of the Cal Learn program.


All pregnant girls and custodial parents who are under 19 years of age, receive AFDC, and do not have a high school diploma or equivalent must participate in Cal Learn. The county welfare department identifies eligible clients and refers them to the Cal Learn program. However, Cal Learn program staff also conduct outreach and case-finding activities. Through these efforts, Cal Learn staff learn about and enroll a substantial number of clients. Nevertheless, identification and referral of all eligible clients remains a significant challenge for the program.

Eligibility workers in the county welfare department have primary responsibility for identifying clients eligible for Cal Learn. When a new case applies, the eligibility worker conducting the intake is responsible for determining whether a teenage parent is in the assistance unit and, if so, for finding out whether the teenager has a high school diploma. If the teenage parent is the head of the assistance unit, identification of the parent is straightforward: the eligibility worker must determine the relationship between the case head and each child for whom assistance is requested and determine whether the teenager has graduated from high school or has a GED. In contrast, if the teenage parent is "embedded" within the case of a senior parent that may contain younger siblings of the teenage parent and the child of the teenage parent, the eligibility worker must identify the relationships among all members of the assistance unit. Eligibility workers who handle ongoing cases are expected to identify births to embedded teenage parents at the annual redetermination of case eligibility. When a teenage parent is identified, the eligibility worker refers the client to the Cal Learn program by entering an appropriate code to the automated case data system. Lists of new Cal Learn referrals are then transmitted to the Cal Learn program on a regular basis.

Several factors pose obstacles to identifying and referring all eligible custodial parents to Cal Learn. First, the family may not promptly report the pregnancy of, or birth to, a teenage parent. A teenage girl on her mother's cash assistance case might not know she is pregnant until the third or fourth month of the pregnancy, and even then she might not tell her mother that she is pregnant. Even if the teenage girl does tell her mother that she is pregnant, the family has no incentive to report the pregnancy to the welfare department until the point at which the grant can be increased.

Second, forms and data systems are not structured to record and store all the necessary information. Although the application form contains a question about pregnancy status, this form is completed at intake and annually thereafter. Therefore, unless the pregnancy occurs during these periods, the application/reinvestigation form would not be used by either the client or the eligibility worker to report or verify the information. Furthermore, the relationship identifiers in the data systems are not adequate to identify embedded cases. When Cal Learn was initially implemented, computer runs identified all cases with a child under age three and at least one teenage female. Eligibility workers then had to check whether the teenage female was the parent of the child under three. The monthly reporting forms ask a general question, "Does anyone have anything else to report?" and the caretaker answers "yes" or "no". Becoming pregnant, having a baby, aborting or miscarrying are examples provided. However, staff reported that often this section of the "Monthly Eligibility Report" is routinely checked "no". Revisions to the forms and data systems that might remedy some of these problems are under consideration, but such changes are expensive and cannot be implemented quickly.

Third, situations may arise when--due to large caseloads, frequent regulation changes, and other demands of the eligibility worker's job--an eligibility worker cannot aggressively pursue information which might indicate that a teen in a embedded case is a custodial parent and whether she has a high school diploma. This occurs infrequently, however. The number of these cases is a small percentage of the total number of cases carried by an eligibility worker.

Cal Learn staff reported that they identify many pregnant or custodial teenage parents who are eligible for Cal Learn but have not been referred to the program. In some cases, these teens are receiving welfare; in other cases, they are eligible for welfare but not receiving it. If the teenage parent is not receiving cash assistance but is eligible to do so, the case manager works with a county eligibility worker to establish her eligibility for cash assistance, then to enroll her in Cal Learn. If the teenage parent is already receiving cash assistance, the case manager contacts her eligibility worker to ask that she be referred to Cal Learn.

The Cal Learn providers engage in outreach and case finding, as called for in the AFLP standards for Cal Learn case management. Two sources of direct referrals to the Cal Learn agency are important. First, Cal Learn providers work with and become known to school staff. In both the local Cal Learn programs we visited for this study, a major responsibility of case managers and their direct supervisors was working with school districts to promote school-based programs for teenage parents. Thus, when school staff learn that a student is pregnant, they may refer her to Cal Learn for case management and support services. Second, as AFLP agencies, the agencies providing Cal Learn case management are well known to health care providers. Cal Learn staff reported that health providers are especially eager to have their patients enroll in AFLP or Cal Learn because the intervention of the case manager increases the likelihood that the girl will follow through in getting prenatal care for herself and well-baby care for her newborn. Thus, MediCal (California's Medicaid program) and other health care providers refer pregnant and parenting teenagers to Cal Learn.

Cal Learn staff's outreach efforts identify a significant, though small, percentage of Cal Learn clients. While Cal Learn programs do not keep records on the number of Cal Learn clients they identify, one Cal Learn manager estimated that 10 percent of the clients are referred through a source other than the county welfare department. Cal Learn staff believe that the county welfare agency is especially likely to miss identifying younger teenage parents, either because agency workers assume the senior mother, not the teenager, is the parent of the newborn or because the family conceals the truth. Cal Learn staff feel that schools and doctors are key to identifying the younger teenagers. Staff also expressed concern that California's Maximum Family Grant (family cap) law will discourage the reporting of new babies to welfare and thereby make identifying teenage parents through the welfare system even more difficult.

Although many of the staff we spoke with believe identifying and referring all eligible teenage parents to Cal Learn remains a significant challenge, the available data suggest that, on the whole, the various strategies being pursued are succeeding in bringing most eligible youth in the program. State planners estimated that Cal Learn would have a caseload of approximately 23,000 clients statewide. This estimate was based on data from California's AFDC Characteristics Sample, a sample representative of cases statewide, which showed that 2.3 percent of cases across the state included a teenage parent.

During 1996, the Cal Learn caseload fluctuated between 20,500 and more than 23,000; it averaged 22,000. Both the statewide AFDC caseload and the Cal Learn caseload declined between January and December 1996. Thus, the number of Cal Learn clients as a percentage of cases is close to projections, suggesting that most teenage parents are being identified and referred. Cal Learn clients as a percentage of total statewide caseload were 2.4 to 2.5 percent in 1996.


This section describes development and implementation of Cal Learn.

1. Development and Implementation

California pays out $6 billion in cash assistance payments annually, and a high proportion of the state's population receives cash assistance (18 to 19 percent in California, compared with 12 percent nationally). Research has established that having children as a teenager, without being married, increases the likelihood of not completing high school and becoming a long-term recipient of cash assistance. California wanted to develop services for this population that would lessen their long-term welfare dependence. Accordingly, focusing services on teenage parents was a key feature of Governor Wilson's welfare reform plan. Initial legislative proposals for Cal Learn were put forth in 1991, and it was established as part of the California Work Pays Demonstration enacted through Senate Bill 35 in June 1993.

The legislation culminating in Cal Learn involved extensive negotiations between interested legislators and executive branch staff. California policymakers initially intended to replicate Ohio's LEAP program. However, they decided to monitor progress, as measured by report card grades, rather than attendance per se, as was done in LEAP. In part, this was a philosophical decision: California policymakers believed that progress, not merely "seat time," should be rewarded. But fiscal considerations also played a role in the decision, as California planners recognized the difficulty and expense of establishing new systems to monitor attendance consistently across the state. California school districts operate autonomously, with diverse attendance standards and diverse definitions for excused and unexcused absences. Also, data systems for capturing attendance data at the individual student level in consistent formats do not exist. Policymakers regarded as too high the costs of negotiating standards and developing the requisite data collection systems. They decided, instead, to link bonuses and sanctions to "progress in school," and chose report card grades as the measure. Planners believed this approach would be simpler to implement, so they prescribed that sanctions and bonuses be tied to progress as measured by up to four report cards in a 12-month period. Even this simpler approach, however, raised a host of operational issues that the state and counties continue to struggle with (see Section D.6).

2. Cal Learn's Case Management Model: The Adolescent Family Life Program (AFLP)

An important aspect of Cal Learn operations is that AFLP agencies provide case management services in many counties. AFLP was developed as a demonstration project in the early 1980s, with state and federal funding through the Department of Public Health and the public health system. The program used a holistic approach, which sought to address simultaneously the many problems teenage parents and their children face: lack of health care, precarious living situations, social isolation, poor educational opportunities, and the teenage parent's immaturity and lack of parenting skills. The program's initial goals were to improve birth outcomes (reduce the incidence of low birth weight), improve educational outcomes, increase parenting skills, and reduce repeat pregnancies. These goals were to be achieved primarily by providing case management services that link teenage parents and their children to the services they need and by advocating on behalf of the teenage parents. An evaluation of the demonstration by researchers at the University of Southern California found that the program met all its goals (Thiel et al. 1990).

After the demonstration, the California Department of Health Services, Maternal and Child Health Branch sought to expand the program. In 1985, AFLP was launched statewide, with 37 AFLP programs in 32 of California's 58 counties. By 1989, AFLP programs operated in 43 counties, and by 1997, 45 counties. Current funding for AFLP is $19.3 million, of which $10 million comes from general state funds and $9.3 million from federal funding.

The AFLP standards specify the following program goals and elements:

  • AFLP Administration and Management. AFLP providers must fulfill administrative and management functions necessary to achieve the goals of AFLP.
  • Network Coordination. Adopting a systemwide, long-term perspective, AFLP providers participate in network coordination in their communities to improve services for pregnant and parenting teenagers and their families.
  • Outreach and Case Finding. The AFLP provider conducts outreach to identify adolescent women younger than 18, who are pregnant or have one or more children.
  • Intake. To enroll clients in the program, the AFLP provider has a structured process in which clients are fully informed about the program and their responsibilities.
  • Initial Client Assessment. The AFLP case manager systematically collects, records, and analyzes information about the client to establish a baseline for developing an initial, comprehensive Individual Service Plan (ISP).
  • Planning. An ISP will be developed with each client after the initial assessment. The ISP specifies the goals for the client and her family and delineates services and activities to meet those goals. It will be reviewed at least quarterly and, if necessary, revised.
  • Implementation. The AFLP case manager facilitates client access to and use of available public and private services specified in the ISP.

Monitoring and Evaluation. The AFLP case manager monitors the client's progress on a monthly basis through contacts with clients, service providers, and third parties, to determine how effectively services are being provided and to gauge the client's progress toward her goals.

The Cal Learn program combines a strong focus on financial incentives for school performance and the holistic case management approach embodied in AFLP. At the time Cal Learn was conceived, AFLP was in place and it had a strong focus on teenage parent clients and linkages with support service networks. Yet, joining the two central elements--fiscal incentives for school attendance and AFLP case management--represented a last-minute compromise in the legislative process. Some legislators wanted the new program for teenage parents on welfare to focus primarily on the school attendance requirement; others wanted simply to expand AFLP without imposing a school attendance requirement. The result was a compromise that combined the two ideas: Cal Learn focuses on school progress and introduces financial incentives, but the legislation grants AFLP contract agencies the right of first refusal to operate Cal Learn and requires that the programs not operated by AFLP agencies adhere to AFLP program standards. Currently, county welfare departments contract with a local AFLP agency to operate Cal Learn in 27 California counties, which have 93 percent of Cal Learn clients statewide. In 22 counties with five percent of the caseload, the county welfare department operates Cal Learn; in the remaining counties, another agency operates Cal Learn, or the county welfare department and AFLP operate Cal Learn jointly.

3. Learning to Work Together

Implementing Cal Learn required that welfare agencies and health agencies work together at the state and local levels. Welfare agencies were eager to operate Cal Learn, because it serves welfare clients and is administered through GAIN. At the same time, welfare agency staff were not familiar with the work AFLP agencies were doing. At the local level, county welfare agencies also were concerned about the ability of an agency that served a relatively small number of voluntary clients to increase the scale of its operations and to serve clients whose participation is mandatory. For example, Sacramento County's AFLP program served 150 teenage parents at the time Cal Learn was implemented. The county welfare department was concerned about the program's ability to expand and serve a projected 1,500 Cal Learn clients. County welfare departments were also hesitant to accept the task of making determinations on sanction and bonus amounts while the case management work on which these actions would be based was to be conducted under contract by another agency.

On the other side, AFLP managers and staff came from backgrounds in health service delivery and social work. They were accustomed to serving all teens seeking their services without imposing requirements or requiring documentation. Thus, the welfare system's concept of "eligibility," the fiscal incentives of sanctions and bonuses, and the extensive documentation necessary to ensure payment integrity and adherence to due process requirements were foreign to AFLP program staff. Furthermore, AFLP providers assumed that the eligibility side with its rules and regulations would lead to excessive attention being paid to the rules and school attendance, and would detract from their ability to provide comprehensive case management. Since AFLP agency staff saw themselves as advocates for the teenagers, many resisted the concept of sanctions in a mandatory program.

Staff expressed concern that Cal Learn's focus on school progress would distort AFLP's holistic approach to teenage parents' many problems. Some staff expressed the view that school should not be given the highest priority for young teens in unstable living situations or abusive relationships. Another concern is with interference in the emphasis AFLP case management traditionally places on developing a long-term relationship between the case manager and the teenage parent. The AFLP model emphasizes working with teenage parents as early as possible, and continuing to work with them even if the teenage parent initially refuses help. Persistent interest in the teenage parent and her child often helps establish trust, that lets the case manager be of assistance when the teenage parent becomes ready to accept it.

Two elements of Cal Learn work against the establishment of long-term relationships. First, many teenage parents come into Cal Learn just before they turn 19 and are no longer subject to Cal Learn requirements. Although this is a natural consequence of the fact that the preponderance of births to teenagers on welfare is among older teenagers, it shortens the period when case managers can work with them. California's welfare reform legislation (Assembly Bill 1542) has addressed this problem by extending Cal Learn eligibility, on a voluntary basis, for 19-year-old teenage parents who enter the program by the age of 18 and have not yet graduated from high school. Second, girls become ineligible for Cal Learn if they stop receiving welfare, a restriction not present in AFLP.

4. Moving Clients into Cal Learn and Sharing Information Between Agencies

Developing procedures for moving clients into Cal Learn, providing services for them, and conveying information about client activities between Cal Learn and a county welfare department posed challenges for both agencies. Because the Cal Learn program can affect a family's AFDC grant, careful record keeping and adherence to notice and due process requirements are essential. Because Cal Learn involves welfare department eligibility workers, GAIN staff, and Cal Learn contract agency staff, information flows and data systems are complex. Staff in both counties reported that developing the necessary procedures required patience and flexibility. Here, we outline the Cal Learn intake procedures.

Eligibility workers refer teenage parents 18 or younger to Cal Learn. The Cal Learn program sends each new Cal Learn client a notice inviting them to attend Cal Learn orientation. At orientation for a new client, Cal Learn staff explain Cal Learn program requirements and services and assign the client to a case manager. After orientation, the case manager contacts the client and arranges a time to conduct the intake interview and assessment, usually (though not always) in the client's home. On the basis of the assessment, the case manager helps the client identify and arrange for necessary services, including an appropriate educational program if she is not in school and child care if she needs it. The case manager also establishes a report card schedule. During the first 90 days in Cal Learn, the client cannot receive a sanction or bonus; therefore, she does not have to submit a report card. After the initial 90-day period, however, she must submit up to four report cards in a 12-month period to receive a bonus and avoid a sanction.

All identified custodial parents who are eligible for Cal Learn are subject to the requirement to make progress in school, whether or not they choose to receive case management and support services. Accordingly, clients who fail to attend the initial orientation are mailed a formal notice stating Cal Learn requirements, a notice that they have not carried out a required program activity, and a new request to attend an interview. Clients who respond to the second notice receive orientation and other services. Those who miss the second orientation are sent a notice stating when report cards are due and notifying them that cash assistance may be reduced if they fail to submit a report card when one is due. The Cal Learn staff maintain up-to-date report schedules for each of the county's school districts. The staff can then assign a report card schedule to each client who does not attend orientation, on the basis of the school district in which she resides.

Integrating these notification requirements into the workloads of case managers posed a challenge for the Cal Learn managers. Case managers in both Santa Clara County and Sacramento County initially found the paperwork requirements of the welfare system formidable. They felt that the requirements interfered with their ability to carry out the basic task of working directly with clients. To alleviate the case managers' clerical burden, program managers in both counties have, to varying degrees, moved responsibility for tracking cases, sending forms to clients, and entering data into computer systems away from case managers and into a separate administrative support unit.

In Santa Clara County, more of the responsibility for case tracking has shifted from case managers to a Cal Learn administrative unit. In Santa Clara County, specialized administrative staff notify clients about orientation, conduct orientation, and follow up with subsequent notices to clients who failed to attend orientation or to contact Cal Learn for an interview. Case managers are assigned after a client attends orientation.

In Sacramento County, Cal Learn case managers retain more of the responsibility for sending required forms and following up to bring into the program teenage parents who do not attend orientation. A case manager is assigned to each client before orientation, to facilitate the intake and follow-up process. The clerical support unit checks information in the county welfare data system, which Cal Learn needs to conduct effective case management and to ensure accuracy for invoicing purposes. It also enters data into Lodestar, the database used for Cal Learn internal management and for providing data for ad hoc reporting to the county and state.

Each county also has an elaborate system through which Cal Learn case managers communicate requests to the county welfare department for bonuses and sanctions and for child care and other support services. The Cal Learn case manager is responsible for sending official notices to clients notifying them of their Cal Learn program obligations or informing them that they are not in compliance and may have their grant reduced if they do not show good cause. However, ultimate legal authority for requesting a bonus or sanction resides with the GAIN program. Accordingly, Cal Learn case managers send a recommendation for a bonus or sanction to GAIN, where a GAIN worker makes a final determination on the bonus or sanction request and initiates a request to an eligibility worker to impose the sanction or pay the bonus. Clerical support units in both county Cal Learn programs fulfilled similar functions in facilitating this information flow.

Cal Learn staff in both counties emphasized the important role county GAIN staff played during the two-year period of Cal Learn operation in helping Cal Learn staff understand the program rules and in facilitating the timely flow of information between Cal Learn and the welfare agency.

5. Types of School Programs

California law requires that each person between the ages of 6 and 18 attend school full time. Many pregnant and parenting teenagers in California enroll in regular school programs--junior high and middle schools and comprehensive high schools. In addition to regular school programs, pregnant and parenting teenagers in California have the following education options:

  • Adult Education. All minor pregnant and parenting students may enroll in adult education programs, either with "adult status" or concurrently within the K-12 program.
  • Continuation Education. Youths 16 to 18 years of age may enroll in continuation education to work toward a diploma. Minimum attendance is 15 hours a week if not employed and 4 hours a week if employed.
  • County Pregnant Minor Parent Programs. Eighty-five programs in 17 counties serve pregnant girls under the age of 18 who have not completed a high school education and whose pregnancy has been verified. Full-time participation is four hours a day and may continue for one semester following the semester in which the pregnant minor delivers.
  • Court and Community Schools. These schools serve students who have been expelled from regular school, are chronically truant, are on probation or parole and not attending school, or are homeless. Students in these programs can work toward a diploma.
  • Home and Hospital Instruction. Programs of home instruction for students who experience a temporary physical, mental, or emotional disability while in regular school classes and can reasonably be expected to return to regular classes.
  • Independent Study. Independent study provides a flexible education program for students. It may be part-time study connected with classroom instruction or a full-time program separate from traditional classroom instruction. It must be covered by a district policy and must be voluntary for both student and school.

Opportunity Schools and Programs. Programs with specialized structure and learning environment that are designed to help at-risk students develop the tools and positive self-image to stay in or return to regular school and succeed there.

The School Age Parenting and Infant Development (SAPID) program, which provides child care in or near the school and, in some sites, transportation to and from the school and child care center, is available in some districts. Student participation in parenting education is a required part of SAPID.

Cal Learn clients use the full range of education programs (Table B.1). Comprehensive high school programs and adult education programs leading to a GED certificate are the most common school setting. Approximately 40 percent of clients in Sacramento County and 27 percent in Santa Clara County were in one of these two types of programs. Continuation school and alternative school together accounted for approximately 20 percent of placements in each county. Other programs--elementary and middle schools, court and community schools, private schools, and others--each accounted for a small percentage of the placements. About 12 percent of clients in Sacramento County and 19 percent in Santa Clara County attended special programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers.


  Sacramento County Santa Clara County
Percentage in Each Type of School Programa    
Elementary school 0 <1
Junior high/middle school 1 3
Comprehensive high school 19 16
Continuation school 15 9
Court/community <1 1
Alternative school 8 11
Adult education 21 11
Private school (K-12) <1 0
Other 3 4
Not applicable 29 32
Unknown 4 13
Total 100 100
Percentage in a School Program for Teenage Parentsa    
County pregnant parenting program 1 6
School Parenting and Infant Development (SAPID) 7 1
Other pregnant/parenting program 4 13
Not applicable 84 67
Unknown 4 13
Total 100 100
Number of Clients with Data on Schooling in Cal Learn Management Information System (MIS) 1,094 419
Total Number of Clients Active in Cal Learnb 1,161 548

Source: Tabulations from the Cal Learn MIS (Lodestar).

Note: Data pertain to clients who were enrolled in Cal Learn as of the end of February 1996. Since data in Lodestar for each client may include multiple records (reflecting the completion of an intake interview and perhaps subsequent follow-up interviews), tabulations are based on the earliest Cal Learn intake or follow-up form completed in 1996. If the client had not completed an intake or follow-up form in 1996, data from the last form in 1995 was used.

a Percentages are based on cases with information on schooling in the Cal Learn MIS (n = 1,094 in Sacramento County; n = 419 in Santa Clara County)

b Total number of clients active in Cal Learn exceeds number of clients with data on schooling in the Cal Learn MIS because some active clients do not complete an intake interview or receive Cal Learn services. School program is not known for these individuals.

Under Cal Learn, the education program must lead to a high school diploma or its equivalent. To encourage participation in school, sanctions and bonuses are issued up to four times in a 12-month period, based on school progress as indicated on report cards. Initially, these requirements appeared to preclude enrollment in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses as appropriate placements because ESL courses generally do not lead to a high school diploma or its equivalent. State policy was clarified to allow Cal Learn students to be enrolled in ESL, provided ESL is necessary for the student to make progress toward a high school diploma.

Cal Learn legislation presumed that students would be enrolled in a traditional, comprehensive school that issues four report cards during each school year. In reality, many schools--particularly those that offer alternatives to a traditional, comprehensive program--issue report cards more frequently or less frequently than four times a year; and some issue no report cards at all. Initially, Cal Learn regulations specified that only report cards issued for all students were allowable. However, requirements were clarified to allow Cal Learn staff to negotiate special arrangements with programs that do not issue report cards. Such arrangements with these schools must apply to all Cal Learn students in school and must allow for both bonuses and sanctions.

During the planning phase for implementing Cal Learn, staff realized that some teen parents faced school residency barriers for enrolling in school. Because the statute specified that minor students could register only in the school district in which their parent/legal guardian resided, youth, including teenage parents who did not live with a parent/legal guardian, were usually unable to enroll in school. In 1994, the statute was amended (Chapter 98, Statutes of 1994) to allow a student living with a caregiver adult, upon submission of a signed affidavit, to enroll and receive school-related medical care in the district within which the caregiver resides.

6. Administering Bonuses and Sanctions

At orientation, Cal Learn clients are told that they must establish a report card schedule within 90 days and that after 90 days they must submit their report card to the case manager. They are eligible for a bonus of $100 if they receive a "C" average or better, but they are assessed a sanction of $100 if they fail to submit a report card or if it shows a "D" average or below. All teenage parents enrolled in Cal Learn are subject to the report card requirements, whether or not they receive Cal Learn case management services. Exempt teenage parents receive no Cal Learn program services. Deferred teenage parents continue to receive case management services, but they are not eligible for support services or bonuses and sanctions. Reasons for exemption are:

  • A serious illness or injury prevents attending school for three months or longer.
  • The student is expelled from school, and no school alternative can be arranged.
  • Necessary child care or transportation services are unavailable or cannot be provided for three months or more as a result of lack of funding.

An AFDC-Foster Care payment is being made on behalf of the teenage parent.

Deferred teens continue to receive case management services but are not eligible for support services and bonuses or subject to sanctions. Deferral reasons are:

  • Needed child care or transportation services are unavailable for less than three months.
  • Case management services are not available.
  • A special need that prevents the teenage parent from meeting program requirements cannot be met.
  • A physician prescribes a period of recovery after the birth of a child.

Each client is supposed to submit the report card to the case manager by a designated due date, which is typically 10 days after the client receives it. After the due date, a reasonable-effort period follows, during which (1) the client can submit the report card late, and (2) the case manager must make a reasonable effort to let the client know a report is due and a sanction will be assessed if it is not submitted. If the report card does not demonstrate adequate progress, a sanction of $100 is assessed unless the client can show good cause. If no report card is submitted, a sanction of $100 is assessed. If a report is submitted late (and within the reasonable-effort period) but demonstrates good progress, a sanction of $50 is assessed. To receive the $100 bonus, the student must submit the report card on time and the report card must demonstrate adequate progress. For implementing the bonus or sanction, the case manager makes a formal recommendation to the GAIN worker (through a form designed for this purpose) who notifies the eligibility worker to implement the sanction or bonus through the automated Case Data System (CDS).

Cal Learn's financial incentives appear to be administered effectively in Sacramento and Santa Clara counties and to affect the benefits of most Cal Learn clients. In 1996, about six percent of cases in Sacramento and five percent of cases in Santa Clara received a sanction each month on average (Table B.2). Slightly higher percentages received bonuses (eight and seven percent, respectively, in Sacramento and Santa Clara). The higher turnover in Santa Clara's Cal Learn caseload, which places more of the caseload in the 90-day period before a Cal Learn client is eligible for sanction or bonus, accounts for the small differences in sanction and bonus rates in the two counties.(2) To provide perspective, we made a rough estimate of the average percentage of cases each month who had been participating in Cal Learn long enough to qualify for a sanction or bonus. We found that 25 percent were qualified each month in Sacramento and 21 percent in Santa Clara.(3)


  Sacramento County Santa Clara County
Average Number of Cal Learn Cases 1,212 468
Average Percentage of New Cases 6 9
Average Percentage of Cases Leaving Cal Learn 8 9
Average Percentage of Cases Assessed a First- Month Sanction 6 5
Average Percentage of Cases Receiving a Bonus 8 7
Estimated Average Percentage of Cases Eligible for a Bonus or Sanctiona 25 21

Source: Tabulations of data from Cal Learn's Stat-45 Reports provided by the California Department of Social Services.

a  Estimated as (1- (average percentage leaving Cal Learn × 4))/3.  The estimate assumes new cases will not receive a sanction or bonus during the first four months and that, in any month, one-third of those required to submit a report card may receive a bonus or be assessed a sanction.


For Sacramento = (1 - (.06 × 4))/3 = .25

For Santa Clara = (1 - (.09 ×4))/3 = .21

Therefore, we estimate that about 56 percent of people who qualified for a bonus or sanction in Sacramento actually received one ((8 + 6)/25 = .56) and 57 percent did so in Santa Clara County ((5 + 7)/21 = .57). The approximately 46 percent of cases who qualified for a sanction or bonus but did not receive one are in one of several situations: (1) they received a "D" report card, which was sufficient to avoid a sanction but not to receive a bonus; (2) they were participating in a GED or other program that did not have report cards; or (3) an error was made in not assessing a sanction or paying a bonus. While we cannot tell how many of the 45 percent who qualified for a bonus or sanction did not receive one, overall, these data strongly suggest that, in most cases, Cal Learn's financial incentives were applied appropriately. The available data on sanctions and bonuses indicate that Cal Learn's financial incentives affect the benefits of most Cal Learn clients.

Most Cal Learn case managers in Sacramento and Santa Clara counties have reservations about the bonus and sanction elements of the program. Some view the bonuses as a way of getting more benefits to clients to partially offset the loss in income from reductions in the real value of benefits over time. Others thought it was good that the system tells teenage parents in a concrete way that "school is very important and if you chose not to go, consequences will follow." Yet many think school is not the highest priority for clients who are homeless or in abusive situations, but a problem that can be dealt with after more pressing crises have been resolved. Some case managers also questioned how much the fiscal incentives mattered. One expressed the view that sanctions and interim bonus payments made little difference in the behavior of most teens. For one thing, the incentives are relatively small (a $100 sanction assessed over two months for each report card due or $100 bonus for each report card due in a 12-month period). For another, a teenage parent on her parent's cash assistance case would not necessarily see either the bonus or the grant reduction, because progress incentives are paid to the assistance unit as part of the grant, rather than directly to the teenage parent. (The $500 high school completion bonus is paid directly to the teenage parent, however.) This case manager thought that long-term, persistent attention and showing that someone cared were more important factors than financial incentives in turning girls around and getting them back into school.(4)

Our informal review of a small number of case records supports the view that long-term, persistent attention helped return some clients to school. We saw case files of several teenage parents who remained out of school for long periods (and presumably received sanctions that did not alter their behavior). But then they experienced some life change--most often, leaving a boyfriend--or matured to the point where they wanted to return to school. At that point, these teenage parents were receptive to a case manager who had shown persistent interest in their well-being by staying in contact over many months even though they refused to go to school. We did not review enough cases to estimate the frequency with which this occurred, but we saw the pattern often enough to lend credibility to case managers' reports that this behavior pattern is common.

Several operational issues have arisen in implementing the bonus and sanction policy. The use of report cards as the measure of progress and incentives linked to grades brings operational complexities, despite the simple, intuitive appeal of report cards. Making sure teenage parents understand the rules, establishing report card schedules and changing them as necessary, dealing with special situations in which the school does not have a four-point grading scale with four report cards per school year, administering sanctions, and determining whether good cause exists are all complex and time-consuming. In recognition of the staff burden, Cal Learn case managers may have no more than 40 clients. As a rough gauge of the amount of staff time that goes into administering report card requirements, one Cal Learn manager estimated that she could reduce her staff by about one-fourth (while still meeting all other AFLP service standards) if the Cal Learn report card requirements were eliminated.

Use of grades as the measure of progress introduces some unforeseen inequities. Districts and even schools within the same district have different grading criteria. Cal Learn staff reported that some districts never give less than a "B." Other districts do not use grades at all, and some nontraditional schools do not measure student progress on a four-times-per-school-year basis that would permit a student to earn an interim bonus. GED programs, which appeal to teenage parents who have dropped out of school, present a special problem in this regard. All students may enroll in GED programs, can avoid sanctions by attending, and can receive the completion bonus. But students attending GED programs are not eligible for interim bonuses unless the GED program establishes a system for measuring progress.

Some elements of program operation cut the link between actions and consequences, thereby lessening the effects of fiscal incentives. One factor is that embedded teenage parents may never see the bonus payment or feel the sanction, since the grant goes directly to the head of the assistance unit. Another factor stems from the time frame in which sanctions are applied. Sometimes a case may be assessed a sanction after submission of a report card deserving a bonus. This can occur when the time required for reasonable effort and the need to assess the sanction in two separate months coincides with a report card schedule in which report cards are less than three months apart. It can also occur if eligibility workers do not process the bonuses and sanctions in a timely manner, due to workload.

7. Child Care

Cal Learn staff reported that many Cal Learn participants do not like to use formal child care providers. Many teenage parents believe that good parents do not leave their babies with strangers. Most are not well-informed consumers of child care; thus, they are insecure about judging the quality of care and standing up for their rights as consumers. Several staff mentioned recent media attention to abuses that have occurred in child care centers and informal child care homes.

These attitudes about child care, coupled with schools' perceived reluctance to have teenage parents attend regular school programs, leads some teenage parents to select school programs that may not be in their best interest. Cal Learn staff said many districts do not like to serve the teenage parents in their regular school programs. In addition, the number of slots in special school programs for teenage parents is limited. Because of these factors, many teenage parents select schooling options (such as "independent study") that require limited use of child care. Yet, teenage parents must often overcome the opposition of families and boyfriends to persevere in school. Thus, case managers view the selection of independent study as harmful because it reinforces the young parent's isolation and discourages her efforts to find support systems outside the home that will help sustain efforts to complete school.

In part, because of teenage parents' attitudes toward child care, Cal Learn funding for child care has been more than adequate. In fact, authorized funds have not been fully used because the demand for subsidized child care has been less than anticipated. Staff reported also that reimbursement rates for subsidized care are adequate. GAIN and Cal Learn pay at the 93rd percentile of rates for child care providers in an area. Teenage parents and schools like programs with child care on-site: the program can incorporate parent training with the school program and knows that the teens are in school. However, since very few programs with on-site care exist, this is not an option for most Cal Learn clients.


1.  Under GAIN, counties receive reimbursement for support services up to a specified annual allocation it funds for support services. Under Cal Learn, support services costs and all other costs are considered an entitlement, and counties are reimbursed the amounts claimed, with no annual limit.

2.  First-month sanctions, as a percentage of all cases less cases in the first three months of Cal Learn enrollment, are seven percent in both Sacramento and Santa Clara. Bonuses, as a percentage of all cases less cases in the first three months of Cal Learn enrollment, are 10 percent in both counties.

3.  Details of the estimate are presented in the note to Table B.2.

4.  The evaluation of Cal Learn being conducted by U.C.-Davis is designed to address the relative importance of case management and financial incentives in achieving high school completion and other Cal Learn objectives.