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

10/31/1997

As part of Welfare Reform '95, the state's welfare reform initiative implemented in November 1995, Massachusetts imposed two new requirements for teenage parents receiving cash assistance. First, teenage parents (including those age 18 and 19) without a high school diploma or its equivalent are required to attend school or a GED program or face reduction or elimination of their cash grant. Second, minor parents (those under age 18) who receive cash assistance are required to live with an adult relative or legal guardian or in a state-sponsored group home for teenage parents. Unless they qualify for an exception, minor parents who fail to comply will have their cash assistance cases closed and their applications for assistance denied.

A. OVERVIEW OF THE NEW REQUIREMENTS

1. School Attendance Requirement

Specific Requirements. As part of Welfare Reform '95, Massachusetts imposed a statewide school attendance requirement for teenage parents (including 18- and 19-year-old parents) who receive cash assistance and who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. A teenage parent can satisfy the attendance requirement by attending a regular high school or another program leading to a high school diploma or by attending a GED program. However, if the GED program meets for less than 20 hours per week, the teenage parent must engage in part-time employment, community service, vocational training, or other similar activity to bring the total time in education or training to at least 20 hours per week.

Monitoring. The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the agency that administers the state's cash assistance program, monitors the attendance of teenage parents monthly by requiring them to have an attendance form completed by their high school or GED program. It is up to the teenage parent to take the form to the school or program and, in most cases, to see that it is returned to the welfare office.

Enforcement. A teenage parent who misses more than 25 percent of scheduled days without "good cause" during a month is sanctioned. If the parent does not have an acceptable excuse, cash benefits are reduced by her portion of the grant. If the teenage parent heads her own cash assistance case and fails to comply within 30 days after this initial sanction, the entire case is closed. If she is receiving cash assistance on someone else's grant and fails to comply within 30 days, the case remains open, but the needs of both the teenage parent and her child or children are removed from the grant.

2. Minor Parent Living Arrangement Requirement

Specific Requirements. Under Welfare Reform '95, unmarried custodial parents under 18 who receive cash assistance are required to live with a relative or legal guardian who is at least 20 years old. Minor parents who claim they have no adult relative with whom they can live are referred to the Department of Social Services (DSS), the state agency that handles child welfare issues. DSS investigates the minor's living and family situation and verifies whether the minor cannot live with a relative.

If DSS determines that the minor parent cannot live with a relative, she is referred to the Teen Living Program, which operates 22 group homes for teenage parents throughout the state. These residential facilities provide 24-hour adult supervision and offer counseling services and parenting and life skills classes. The Teen Living Program was created as part of Welfare Reform '95 and is managed jointly by DTA and DSS.

Monitoring. The living arrangements of a minor parent who heads her own cash assistance case is verified at application, at case review (which occurs about every six months), and whenever she reports a change of address. The minor parent must have her landlord and the primary tenant on the lease affirm, on a form provided by the welfare office, that she lives at that address and that the primary tenant is a relative. The relationship to the primary tenant must be verified using birth certificates or, in some cases, sworn affidavits from friends or neighbors.

Enforcement. A minor parent who is receiving cash assistance and refuses to comply with the living arrangement requirement will have her cash assistance case closed. She will remain eligible for Food Stamps and Medicaid, however. If a minor parent is applying for cash assistance and is unwilling to comply with the requirement, her application will be denied.

3. The Number of Cases Requiring Regular Monitoring Under the New Provisions

Cases that require school attendance monitoring represent a small fraction of the full caseload. In December 1996, approximately 4,800 teenage parents received cash assistance statewide, which represents about six percent of all cash assistance cases (see Table C.1).(1) Analysis of DTA automated data from the two local offices visited for the study suggests that more than a third of teenage parents receiving cash assistance already have a high school diploma or a GED certificate and thus are not subject to the attendance requirement. Therefore, less than four percent of cash assistance cases are subject to monthly monitoring of school attendance.

Regular monitoring of living arrangements required for a particularly small fraction of cash assistance cases. Less than two percent of cash assistance cases include a minor parent (Table C.1). Moreover, DTA monitors only the living arrangements of minor parents who head their own cases, since those on someone else's case are assumed to be in compliance with the requirement.

TABLE C.1

NUMBER OF TEENAGE AND MINOR PARENTS RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE IN DECEMBER 1996

  Minor Parents (Those Under 18 Years Old Only) Teenage Parents (Including 18- and 19-Year-Olds)
Number    
Who receive cash assistancea 1,219 4,802
Who head their own cash assistance cases 512 4,081
On someone else's cash assistance casea 707 721
Percentage of Cash Assistance Cases:    
That contain a teenage or minor parenta 1.5 6.0
Headed by a teenage or minor parent 0.6 5.1

Source: Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) data and MPR estimates.

aStatewide figures on the number of teenage or minor parents on someone else's cash assistance case were not available. Therefore, the number of these cases was estimated using data from 2 of 39 local DTA offices and assuming that the proportion of teenage or minor parents who were on someone else's case was the same statewide as it was in these two local offices.

Therefore, less than one percent of cash assistance cases (or about 500 minor parents statewide) are subject to regular living-arrangement monitoring associated with the requirement.

B. ORGANIZATION OF PROGRAMS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

1. Teen Specialists

In order to facilitate implementation of the new teenage parent requirements imposed under Welfare Reform '95, DTA created a new class of case workers to work with teenage parents receiving cash assistance. These special case workers, known as "teen specialists," were recruited from the existing pool of DTA case workers. A few local offices converted to the teen specialist model soon after Welfare Reform '95 took effect in November 1995; however, most offices had no teen specialists in place until the end of 1996. In early 1997, there were 65 teen specialists statewide serving about 4,500 teen parents. Teen specialists typically handle 65 to 80 cases, whereas the average caseload size for other case workers is about 110 in offices where case workers handle both ongoing cases and applications for assistance and 150 in offices where case workers handle only ongoing cases.

Teen specialists are responsible for monitoring compliance with the school attendance and living arrangement requirements and for offering referrals and counseling to help teenage parents comply with these mandates. In some offices, teen specialists also handle eligibility determination for teenage parents applying for cash assistance. Eventually, teen specialists in all local DTA offices will handle teenage parent applications.

In spring 1997, DTA added another responsibility for teen specialists: conducting annual home visits for all teenage parents receiving cash assistance. Through these home visits, according to DTA officials, teen specialists will monitor the general living conditions of their caseload and will be on the lookout for signs of sexual or physical abuse or child neglect for possible referral to DSS. The visits will also serve as a means of monitoring compliance with the minor parent living arrangement requirement. To prepare teen specialists for conducting home visits, DTA held an all-day training session. This session included training from social workers from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on recognizing signs of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and child neglect. Initially, the union representing DTA case workers expressed safety concerns regarding the plan for teen specialists to conduct home visits. DTA addressed this concern by allowing teen specialists to conduct home visits in pairs.

Time constraints limit some teen specialist activities. Monitoring and referral associated with the attendance and living arrangement requirements, eligibility determination, and home visits demand substantial amounts of time on the part of teen specialists. Because of their caseload sizes, they have little, if any, time to counsel clients on pregnancy prevention, good parenting techniques, money management, and other life skills. Although this type of counseling is not part of the teen specialists' job description, staff in both local DTA offices visited for the study thought training in parenting and life skills was sorely needed and should be mandatory for teenage parents. They regretted the lack of time for these activities.

Similarly, teen specialists typically do not have time to contact their clients' education providers on a regular basis to discuss the teenager's progress in the program. The director of a GED program serving more than 40 teenage parents receiving cash assistance reported that her staff had little contact with teen specialists, which she thought unfortunate, because it reduced the quality of the case management that both her staff and DTA staff were able to provide. If teen specialists and education providers shared more information, she suggested, they might be in a better position to identify and address problems and barriers facing the teenage parents they serve.

Broad support exists for the teen specialist model. When asked the lessons they had learned from the first year of operating under the new teenage parent requirements, DTA staff members at the state and local levels most often pointed to the importance of teen specialists. Staff members supported the model because (1) it made sense operationally to have only a few staff members in each office learn the special rules for teenage parents; (2) community agencies that serve teenage parents like to have only a few individuals serving as their point of contact with the welfare office; and (3) by focusing exclusively on teenage parents, teen specialists were able to become familiar with the support services available to young parents in the community and, therefore, better serve this population.

2. Relationship Between the Attendance Requirement and the JOBS Program

The teenage parent school attendance requirement imposed as part of Welfare Reform '95 revises and expands an existing attendance requirement imposed through the Employment Services Program (ESP), the state's Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program. ESP, which began in 1993, requires all out-of-school teenagers (including those with children) who are at least 16 years old and who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent to attend school or another education or training activity. Those who do not comply have their needs removed from the cash assistance grant.

Welfare Reform '95 revised this requirement in several ways. First, it expanded the attendance requirement for teenage parents to include those who were younger than 16. Second, it required that teenage parents who are not high school graduates pursue a diploma or GED certificate instead of a more general education or training activity. Finally, it increased the maximum sanction for noncompliance: teenage parents out of compliance for more than 30 days have their needs and the needs of their children removed from the grant.

As was the case before Welfare Reform '95, a teenage parent with a diploma or its equivalent is exempt from ESP education or training requirements as long as she has a young child. However, if she has no child under six (which would be extremely rare for a teenage parent), she may be required to participate in an ESP activity or face sanction. In all cases, teenage parents remain on the caseloads of teen specialists until they turn 20.

C. IDENTIFYING TEENAGE PARENTS RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE

1. Initial Identification of Teenage Parents

DTA staff members indicated that, when Welfare Reform '95 began in November 1995, the initial identification of teenage parents who headed their own cash assistance cases was straightforward and posed no problems. DTA's central computer system could easily flag all cases in which the head was under 20 and was the parent of someone on the grant. In contrast, identification of teenage parents on someone else's cash assistance case ("embedded" teenage parents) proved to be much more difficult. DTA's computer system does not identify relationships beyond those of the person who heads the case. Moreover, at that time, the computer system had no field for flagging teenage parents. Therefore, when Welfare Reform '95 was implemented in November 1995, it was not possible to identify all teenage parents in an automated fashion.

For this reason, DTA planned to identify embedded teenage parents by reviewing all cash assistance cases performed during the first 10 months of Welfare Reform '95. Case workers were instructed to be on the lookout for teenage parents during these reviews. DTA modified its computer system to include a field for identifying teenage parents, so that case workers could flag these cases during the review process.

2. Ongoing Identification of Teenage Parents

DTA staff members report that identification of embedded teenage parents remains an issue. For example, in spite of the addition of a teenage parent flag to the DTA computer system, local staff members expressed frustration that they were unable to generate simple printouts of the embedded teenage parents for their local office.(2) In addition, case workers do not always use the teenage parent flag. Nevertheless, staff members expressed confidence that they were identifying the large majority of teenage parents.

Local DTA staff members mentioned several ways in which they identified teenagers who have become parents. Staff usually learn of births to teenagers on existing cash assistance cases when the client simply informs the welfare office of the birth. Although Massachusetts has a family cap, a cash assistance case still receives additional money for the first birth to a teenage parent on the case. In addition, the child of the teenager is eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps, so clients have a strong incentive to report teenage births to the welfare office. Of course, if some cash assistance recipients misunderstand the state's family cap law, this policy may lead some recipients not to report teenage births to the welfare office.

DTA staff members also reported that the Division of Medical Assistance (which administers the Medicaid program in Massachusetts) notifies DTA of all births to families receiving cash assistance, so that the new baby is added to Medicaid. Staff described this process (which has been in place for years) as very useful for identifying embedded teenage parent cases as they emerge.

Local DTA staff members described an informal method by which embedded teenage parents are identified. Regular case workers (those not assigned to work with teenage parents) work hard to find and flag embedded teenage parents because these potentially complicated cases are then moved off their caseloads and onto those of teen specialists.(3) Staff members believe that the desire of regular case workers to make their workloads more manageable would soon cause virtually all teenage parents to be identified.

D. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SCHOOL ATTENDANCE REQUIREMENT

1. Changes to the Minimum Hours Requirement

During the first few months of operation under the new attendance requirement, DTA lowered the minimum hours of participation required of teenage parents enrolled in GED programs. The legislation imposing the attendance requirement specified that, to be in compliance, teenage parents enrolled in GED programs had to attend "full time." Initially, DTA interpreted "full time" to mean 30 hours per week. If the GED program in which she was enrolled scheduled less, the teenage parent had to supplement her GED hours with community service, job or life skills training, or a similar activity. However, after a few months of operating under the attendance requirement, DTA relaxed its interpretation of "full time" to 20 hours per week. Few GED programs have 30 scheduled hours per week, so the original requirement meant that virtually all teenage parents enrolled in GED programs had to supplement the program.

After operating under the requirement for several months, DTA decided that it was too burdensome on teenage parents to spend 30 hours each week in an education or training activity. Moreover, it was quite burdensome for local offices to create and track so many additional activities. After the threshold was lowered to 20 hours per week, relatively few teenage parents needed to supplement their GED programs with other activities.

2. Good-Cause Exemptions

Teenage parents without a high school diploma or GED certificate are in violation of the attendance requirement if they miss more than 25 percent of scheduled days in a month without "good cause." DTA classifies absences as having good cause if they are excused by the teenage parent's school or GED program. However, teen specialists can excuse additional absences. DTA's central office specifies the good-cause excuses in a list identical to the one DTA created with regard to absences from mandatory JOBS education and training activities.

According to DTA staff members, illness of the teenage parent or her baby were the most common good-cause excuses for missing school. Others include the illness of the child care provider, other problems with day care, the funeral of a family member, court appearances, and homelessness. Teenage parents are entirely exempt from the school attendance requirement during the first three months after their child's birth. Teenage parents, however, are not exempt during pregnancy unless they have a doctor's recommendation. For most good-cause excuses, DTA requires written verification.

3. Monitoring School Attendance

DTA monitors the school attendance of teenage parents on a monthly basis. Near the end of each month, DTA's computer system automatically generates an attendance form, which is mailed to all teenage parents who receive cash assistance and who have not completed high school or earned a GED certificate. It is the teenage parent's responsibility to take the form to her school or education program. Once the school or program has completed the form, the teenage parent has until the 15th of the month to return it to her local DTA office (for example, until February 15 to return the form covering attendance in January). In some cases, the school or education program mails completed attendance forms directly to the welfare office.

Teenage parents are given considerable opportunity to prove compliance. Teen specialists report that their clients often lose the attendance forms, forget to give them to their school or GED program, or fail to return the completed forms to the DTA office. In such cases, the teen specialist typically tries to telephone the teenage parent to remind her that she needed to return the form. If the form comes back reporting that the teenage parent missed more than 25 percent of scheduled days without excuse, the teen specialist attempts to contact the teenage parent to determine whether she had a good cause for not attending.

A teen specialist unable to contact the teenage parent or obtain verification that she is either attending school or absent for good cause sends her a letter stating that she is in violation of the attendance requirement. At this point, the teenage parent has 10 days to produce verification that she is in compliance before a sanction is ordered. Even then, the teenage parent still has two weeks to produce evidence of compliance and prevent the sanction from going into effect. Sanctions are imposed approximately six weeks after the month in which attendance was deficient. For example, poor attendance in January would result in a grant reduction in mid-March.(4)

One teen specialist identified as a significant problem the potential delay--sometimes more than six weeks--from when the teenage parent stops attending school to when the situation comes to light. The specialist who raised this concern said that she could better address the problems leading to absenteeism (such as a child care or housing problem) if she heard about it more quickly. She reported that although some education programs call the teen specialists on their own to report that the teenage parent has stopped attending, this practice is far from universal.

Attendance monitoring requires substantial effort on the part of schools and GED programs serving large numbers of teenage parents. The administrator of one such GED program in Boston reported that attendance monitoring was a substantial burden on staff time because of the large amount of paperwork involved and the fact that the program served teenage parents from seven different local DTA offices, which made it necessary to mail attendance forms to seven different locations. The GED program administrator said that she would prefer an electronic exchange of attendance information with DTA and a more-centralized reporting system that did not require sending forms to so many different offices. In spite of the concerns expressed by this provider, DTA staff members said that schools and GED programs had been very cooperative with the attendance-monitoring process.

4. Results of a Review of Teenage Parent Case Files

As part of the study, MPR staff members reviewed 164 case files of teenage parents receiving cash assistance from two local DTA offices. MPR examined the documentation of regular attendance to determine the frequency and regularity with which teen specialists monitored the school attendance of their clients. This review had considerable limitations. In particular, when attendance documentation was missing for a particular month, reviewers could not be certain whether the teenage parent provided no verification of regular attendance, whether formal verification was provided but the form was misfiled, or whether verification occurred in some informal fashion (such as through a telephone call). Nevertheless, results of the review are informative.

Among teenage parents who had no diploma or GED certificate, the large majority of these files contained some evidence of formal attendance monitoring (such as a completed monthly attendance form or other written verification from the school or program) over the 12-month follow-up period for the case file review. However, many case files that contained evidence of monitoring had several months for which no form was present, even though no sanction was imposed and the teenage parent did not yet have a diploma or GED. Missing forms were particularly common among teenage parents who attended high schools. Materials from these files suggest that monitoring for teenage parents attending high schools was often done less often than monthly (in some cases, only at application and recertification).

In addition, teenage parents who attended GED programs often had missing forms. Materials from these files suggest that in many of these cases, attendance was not monitored because the teenage parent was on a waiting list for a GED program or was still in the application process (for example, waiting for GED program pretest results). In other cases, teenage parents were waiting to take the GED test or waiting for test results. In some cases in which there was no evidence of attendance monitoring, notes in the file indicated that the teenager had passed parts of the GED test and was waiting to retake the parts she did not pass. In some cases involving GED enrollees, periods in which no attendance monitoring took place for these reasons appeared to last several months.

In several cases in which forms were missing but no sanction was imposed, it appeared that the three-month exemption from the attendance requirement after the birth of a child may have been extended a few months. This extension appeared particularly common when the three-month exemption period expired near the end of the school year (in April or May).

5. Enforcement of the Attendance Requirement

Two stages of sanctions can be imposed on teenage parents for violation of the attendance requirement. A teenage parent receiving a first-stage sanction, imposed for the first month of noncompliance, has her needs removed from the cash grant. For a teenage parent who heads her own case, has one child, and has no other income, a first-stage sanction would reduce her grant by $91, from $474 to $383. A first-stage sanction would also result in a $91 grant reduction for a teenage parent who heads her own case and has two children and for a teenage parent with one child on her mother's cash assistance case, assuming they have no other income.

If a teenage parent remains out of compliance with the attendance requirement for 30 days after a first-stage sanction, a second-stage sanction is imposed. A teenage parent receiving a second-stage sanction has both her needs and those of her child or children removed from the cash grant. For a teenage parent who heads her own case, a second-stage sanction results in elimination of her entire cash grant. She continues to receive Medicaid and Food Stamps, however. For a teenage parent who is on someone else's cash assistance case, the case remains open, but the grant is substantially reduced. For example, in a case consisting of a teenage parent, her mother, and her baby, the grant would be reduced from $565 to $383, a reduction of $182. For all cases containing a teenage parent, the full cash benefit is reinstated as soon as the teenage parent can prove she is regularly attending a school or GED program.

Data from the two local DTA offices visited for this study suggest that sanctions for poor school attendance are imposed with considerable frequency. For example, among teenage parents receiving cash assistance in the early months of 1996 in these two offices, 22 percent received a first-stage sanction and 19 percent received a second-stage sanction during the subsequent 12 months (see Table C.2).(5) Moreover, among this sample, all but one of those who received a second-stage sanction during this 12-month period headed their own cases when they were sanctioned. Therefore, in virtually all these cases, the cash grant was eliminated. However, many cases that are closed for poor attendance reopen within a short time. For example, among those having their cash grants eliminated for poor attendance during the first eight months of the follow-up period, over half (54 percent) had their grants restored within six months.

6. Barriers to Compliance with the School Attendance Requirement

According to welfare staff, a lack of family support and unstable home environments impede regular attendance for many teenage parents. The director of one local DTA office serving a large number of teenage parents attributed their resistance to school attendance to a low emphasis on education in the households in which they were raised. Similarly, a teen specialist in another office mentioned lack of support from family members as an important barrier to school attendance facing many teenage parents. Several local staff members mentioned chaotic living situations and housing problems as a major barrier. One local director cited the results of an ongoing DTA-sponsored inspection of all households of cash assistance cases headed by teenage parents to make this point. She said that inspectors had found a surprising number of extremely poor living conditions, including mattresses on the floor and no cribs for the baby. She thought that a teenager living in this environment would find it difficult to make it to school on time every day. Several people reported that, for many teenage parents, unstable housing situations--particularly, frequent moves and periods of homelessness--were another obstacle to regular school attendance.

TABLE C.2

ATTENDANCE SANCTIONS FOR TEENAGE PARENTS RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE IN JANUARY OR FEBRUARY 1996 IN TWO LOCAL WELFARE OFFICES

Percentage Receiving First-Stage Sanction Within
3 Months 9
6 Months 14
9 Months 18
12 Months 22
14 Months 24
Percentage Receiving Second-Stage Sanction Within
3 Months 5
6 Months 11
9 Months 14
12 Months 19
14 Months 20
Among Those Receiving Second-Stage Sanction Within 8 Months (N=26), Percentage Having Cash Grant Restored Within
3 Months 27
6 Months 54
Sample Size 194

Source: Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) automated data.

Note: The sample represents all teenage parents who received cash assistance in January or February 1996 in the two local DTA offices included in the study and who were 18 years old or younger at the beginning of the follow-up period.

State and local DTA staff members said that adequate child care funding exists for teenage parents receiving cash assistance, and that a lack of such funds should not prevent any teenage parents from meeting the attendance requirement. However, teen specialists reported that many of the teenage parents they serve are reluctant to put their children in day care. According to these staff members, some teenage parents have heard reports in the media of child abuse and neglect in day care facilities and have concluded that none of these facilities are safe. Some teenage parents are especially reluctant to place children only a few months old in day care.

Others interviewed for the study described other child care issues concerning teenage parents. For example, an administrator of a GED program serving many young parents complained of encountering a problem in which teenage parents who have poor attendance for one month immediately lose their child care assistance. In these instances, a teenage parent can lose her spot at a desirable day care facility, which could impede her return to school.

Several DTA staff members, as well as others who work closely with teenage parents, pointed out that children of teenage parents tend to have more health problems than other infants. Since day care providers typically do not accept sick children, it is fairly common for teenage parents to be absent from school for extended periods while caring for a seriously ill child.(6) Others reported that teenage parents prefer family day care over day care centers and that family day care tends to be less reliable than center care. For example, it may be unavailable temporarily if the provider is sick or has a personal emergency or permanently if the provider decides to pursue another occupation.

DTA staff members and others interviewed for the study cited other reasons that some teenage parents fail to comply with the school attendance requirement. For example, DTA staff members at both the state and local levels reported that in many cases teenage parents simply do not want to attend school or to be away from their small children. Several staff members thought teenage parents who have been out of school for a few years are particularly resistant to school attendance. In addition, an administrator of a GED program serving large numbers of teenage parents reported that low self-esteem and depression are common among this population. She considered mental health problems an important reason why some teenage parents fail to attend school regularly.

7. Alternative Education Programs

Many teenage parents prefer GED programs over high schools. The review of 164 case files conducted for this study revealed that, among teenage parents who had already earned a degree, about the same number had GED certificates as had high school diplomas. Moreover, among those still pursuing a degree, a larger number were attending GED programs than were attending high schools. A GED program administrator interviewed for the study said that teenage parents, many of whom are substantially behind grade level, often preferred GED programs to high school because it was a much faster method of obtaining a degree.

State-level DTA officials reported that when the attendance requirement was first imposed, there was a shortage of alternative education programs for teenage parents. However, this shortage of GED programs has become much less severe in recent months. Most local DTA staff reported that currently there are no major problems with the supply of GED programs available to teenage parents.

One reason that the supply of GED slots for teenage parents appears to be adequate may be the Young Parents Program (YPP), an alternative education program funded by DTA for young parents (age 14 to 21) receiving cash assistance. DTA contracts with local community-based organizations that operate programs in 28 locations throughout Massachusetts. The program now serves about 1,100 young parents, a large majority of whom are teenagers. In early 1997, approximately 20 percent of teenage parents receiving cash assistance statewide were enrolled in a YPP-sponsored GED program.

Programs must meet a minimum of 20 hours per week and must offer at least 12 hours of educational activities and at least 5 hours of life skills training. Educational activities include GED preparation classes, remedial adult basic education classes, and job readiness and job skills classes (such as computer literacy). Life skills classes cover such topics as the health and nutrition of the young mother and her child, child development, good parenting skills, and family planning. Programs funded through YPP also offer counseling and case management. Most young parents (about 70 percent) spend less than a year in the program, although some (less than 10 percent) spend two years or more. Median length of stay in the program is about nine months.

DTA currently devotes almost $3 million annually to YPP, $2,635 per young parent served. There has been a substantial increase in enrollment in YPP since Welfare Reform '95 was implemented in November 1995, from about 900 in July 1995 to about 1,100 in January 1997. The manager of the statewide program attributes this rise to welfare reform and the new school-attendance requirements.

E. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LIVING ARRANGEMENT REQUIREMENT

1. Role of Child Welfare Authorities

DTA coordinates closely with the Department of Social Services (DSS), the state agency that handles child welfare issues, in monitoring the living arrangements of minor parents. Whenever a minor parent receiving or applying for cash assistance claims that she has no adult relative to live with, DTA refers the case to DSS, which conducts an investigation. As part of this investigation, a social worker talks with the minor parent about her living situation and attempts to contact family members to determine whether there are any relatives who could accommodate the minor parent. Based on this investigation, DSS rates the minor as high, medium, or low priority for the Teen Living Program. DTA places teenage parents in the program based on the DSS rating, as well as the availability of slots. On rare occasions, DSS recommends that the minor parent move back with her parents in spite of the minor's objections.

2. Exemptions from the Living Arrangement Requirement

DTA has specified some extremely limited situations in which a minor parent can live independently--in other words, not with an adult relative or in a state-sponsored group home for teenage parents. To live independently, the minor parent must (1) be 17 years old, (2) attend school regularly or already possess a high school diploma or GED, and (3) be ruled by DSS as a low priority for the Teen Living Program. Only five cases were granted this exemption during the first 15 months the requirement was in effect. In early 1997, according to DTA officials, no minor parents receiving cash assistance in Massachusetts had permission to live independently.

3. Monitoring Living Arrangements

Compliance with the living arrangement requirement is verified at application and at recertification, which occurs about every six months. Unmarried minor parents who head their own cash assistance cases must have their landlord and the primary tenant on the lease complete a form verifying that the minor lives where she claims. She must also provide proof of relationship to the primary tenant, typically with a birth certificate. Verification of living arrangements is also required whenever a minor parent case head reports a change of address. In the spring of 1997, teen specialists began conducting mandatory annual home visits for all teenage parents receiving cash assistance. These visits will serve as an additional means of monitoring compliance with the living arrangement requirement.

Monitoring compliance with the living arrangement requirement is a fairly small burden on the time of teen specialists, because (1) it is not done for many cases, and (2) it is not done often (typically only at application and recertification). Although teen specialists have caseloads of 65 to 80, the 4 interviewed for the study reported each having only 4 or 5 unmarried minor parent case heads on their caseloads. Since it is assumed that minor parents on someone else's grant are in compliance with the requirement, teen specialists need to monitor the living arrangements of only a small fraction of their total caseload.

4. Enforcement of the Living Arrangement Requirement

An unmarried minor parent who does not comply with the living arrangement requirement will have her cash assistance case closed, though she will continue to receive food stamps and Medicaid. Closings for violation of the living arrangement requirement appear to occur infrequently. According to DTA records, in February 1997, only 10 cases statewide were closed because of violation of the living arrangement requirement. DTA was not able to provide statewide information on how many minor parent cases had ever been closed for this reason, so there may have been some additional closed cases that later reopened. However, neither local DTA office visited for the study had closed a case for violation of the living arrangement requirement during the first 16 months it was in effect.

DTA officials did not know how many minor parents had been denied cash assistance at application because of the requirement. Moreover, no data exist on how many minor parents would have applied for cash assistance but did not because they were aware of the living arrangement requirement and did not want to comply with it. Therefore, it is not possible to say how many minor parents in Massachusetts are not receiving cash assistance because of the requirement.

5. The Teen Living Program

As part of Welfare Reform '95, the State of Massachusetts created the Teen Living Program. Through the program, the state has committed $5 million annually to fund group homes for teenage parents who receive cash assistance and cannot live with an adult relative. Statewide, this funding provides more than 100 slots for teenage parents and their children. The average annual cost of the program's housing and other services is about $45,000 per participating teenage parent. In May 1997, 22 group homes sponsored by the Teen Living Program were operating statewide, providing 110 permanent slots and 10 additional emergency slots. At that time, 91 teenage parents resided in group homes sponsored by the program (87 in permanent slots and 4 in emergency slots). This number represents about two percent of teenage parents receiving cash assistance statewide.

Community-based organizations operate the group homes under contract with DSS. Most of these facilities began after Welfare Reform '95 was implemented, although some predate welfare reform. To be eligible for the Teen Living Program, a teenage parent must receive cash assistance, and a DSS investigation must conclude that she has no adult relative to live with. Teenage parents must contribute one-third of their cash assistance check each month to help cover the cost of the program.

Two basic models of group homes are funded through the Teen Living Program, the congregate model and the apartment model. In the congregate model, several teenage mothers and their children live in a single-family home. Residents prepare meals together and share responsibilities for chores. In the apartment model, the group "home" consists of a cluster of apartments. Residents prepare their own meals and are responsible for their own cleaning and chores. However, they are required to keep their unit clean or they can lose visitor and other privileges. In both models, on-site counseling for problems and crises is available, and a program staff member is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many group homes do not provide child care on site. Instead, residents use a variety of off-site child care providers. Other group homes are affiliated with a particular child care provider that may offer child care in the same location as the group home.

Group homes impose significant requirements and restrictions on residents. As a condition of residence, teenage parents in group homes sponsored by the Teen Living Program must attend an education or job training activity for a minimum of 20 hours each week. They must also participate each week in several hours of parenting and life skills activities, such as supervised play with their children or discussions about money management. Group home residents must help with household chores, such as cooking and cleaning. In addition, the group homes impose curfews and restrictions on the hours residents can have visitors. Drinking, drugs, and overnight guests are not allowed.

Group homes offer substantial advantages for some teenage parents. The director of one group home interviewed for the study reported several advantages for teenage parents living in this type of facility. Most important, unlike many teenage parents, residents are not isolated and have the support they need. Moreover, the group homes provide a structure that makes it easier for residents to attend school regularly. In addition, they provide environments that are better for the infants than many other living arrangements available to the teenage parents. Finally, the director reported that the housing options facing the teenage parents she served were bleak, that most of them would be homeless if it were not for the program.

Despite these advantages, however, a substantial number of vacant slots remain. In February 1997, 30 of the 106 Teen Living Program slots statewide were vacant. The director of one local DTA office suggested that these vacancies were evidence that many teenage parents did not find group homes very attractive. She reported that few teenage parents in her office were willing to accept this type of housing. She thought that most teenage parents she encountered found the program's curfews and its restrictions on visitors and other activities unappealing. By May 1997, the vacancy rate for the group homes had dropped somewhat (23 of 110 slots), but it remained over 20 percent. State DTA officials reported that in a few instances these openings represent planned vacancies, in which a slot is being held for a particular teenage parent. In any case, the persistence of vacancies suggests that the Teen Living Program is more than meeting the demand for group homes among teenage parents on cash assistance in Massachusetts.

6. Living Arrangements of Teenage Parents Receiving Cash Assistance

According to DTA computer tracking system data from the two local offices visited for the study, most teenage parents receiving cash assistance live with their parents (Table C.3). Even among 18- and 19-year-old parents (who are not subject to the living arrangement requirement) most live with a parent. A substantial fraction of teenage parents who do not live with their parents live with another adult relative. Among the teenage parents in these two local offices, 68 percent lived with a parent or other adult relative. This proportion ranged from 85 percent among minor parents to 60 percent among 19-year-old parents.

TABLE C.3

CHARACTERISTICS OF TEENAGE PARENTS RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE IN FEBRUARY 1997 IN TWO LOCAL WELFARE OFFICES (Percentage)

  Teenage Parents Who Are:  
  Less than 18 Years Old 18 Years Old 19 Years Old All Teenage Parents
Living Arrangements
Living with a parent 60 56 52 54
Living with another adult relative 25 19 8 14
Living in a TLP group home 13 3 1 3
Living independently 2 22 38 29
Heads Own Cash Assistance Case 42 97 100 90
Ever Married 0 0 3 2
Female 100 99 100 100
Ethnicity
African American 35 35 36 35
Hispanic 51 57 52 54
White 12 8 12 11
Other 2 0 0 0
Sample Size 49 98 174 321

Source: Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) automated data.

Note: The sample represents all teenage parents receiving cash assistance in February 1997 in the two local DTA offices included in the study.

TLP = Teen Living Program.

1. TA provided statewide figures only for the number of teenage parents who head their own cash assistance cases; the agency did not provide statewide figures on the number of teenage parents on someone else's cash assistance case. DTA did, however, provide data on the number of teenage parents on someone else's grant from the two local DTA offices visited for the study (which serve about seven percent of the teenage parents in the state). Therefore, statewide, the number of teenage parents on someone else's grant was estimated using the number from these two offices and assuming that the proportion of teenage parents who are on someone else's grant was the same statewide as it was in these two offices.

2. State DTA officials report that this problem with the central computer system was fixed in the months following our site visit, and now local offices can print out lists of embedded teenage parents.

3. In these instances, the entire case is transferred to a teen specialist, who is then responsible for working with the case head as well as the teenage parent.

4. Massachusetts issues cash assistance checks twice each month.

5. This analysis is restricted to teenage parents who were 18 or younger at the beginning of the follow-up period and therefore were subject to the attendance requirement for the subsequent 12 months.

6. In this case, as long as she has written verification from a doctor, a teenage parent would receive a good-cause exemption from