Implementing Welfare Reform Requirements for Teenage Parents: Lessons from Experience in Four States . Decisions for States


The states in the study adopted very different approaches to structuring their policies and programs for requiring teenage parents to attend school. These approaches reflect differences in the policy priorities of the state governments and in the operational histories of their cash assistance programs. The states' policies relating to school attendance differed in several key parameters:

  • The groups covered by the requirement
  • The specific educational programs teenage parents must attend
  • Whether services such as case management were offered to support efforts to complete high school
  • The criteria and procedures used to monitor attendance
  • The fiscal incentives used to enforce the attendance requirements

Table 2 summarizes the choices of the states in our study along these dimensions.



  Arizona California Massachusetts Virginia
When did policy take effect? November 1995 September 1995 November 1995 July 1995
Who is covered? Custodial parents 13 to 19 Custodial parents 18 or younger Custodial parents 19 or younger All school-age minors
Must client work toward diploma or GED? No, but strongly encouraged Yes Yes Yes
Does state welfare agency pay for special GED programs? Yes, limited No Yes, extensive No
Who is responsible for case management? Primarily JOBS County welfare agency contracts primarily with Adolescent Family Life Program provider Eligibility workers Eligibility workers
Do case managers specialize in teenage parents? No Yes Yes No
What is the average caseload size? 80-100 in most cases

25-35 for a small number of cases in Phoenix

35-40 65-80 Not available
What is the attendance standard? Attend and make satisfactory progress Passing grades on four report cards in a 12-month period Not absent more than 25 percent of school in a month without good cause Not considered truant by the local school district
Who reports attendance to welfare agency? Client Client Client School
How frequently is attendance monitored? Monthly (or weekly) Four times per 12 months Monthly Monthly
Are bonuses used in addition to sanctions? No Yes No Yes
Can sanction cut grant to zero? Yes No Yes No


What groups will be covered by the school attendance requirement?

When implementing school attendance requirements, states will have to determine who will be covered by the new policy. Three of the four states in the study--Arizona, California, and Massachusetts--focused their school attendance requirements specifically on custodial teenage parents who did not possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Among the three, there were differences in the ages covered: Arizona's and Massachusetts's policies applied to custodial parents age 19 and under. California's policy applied to custodial parents age 18 and under. In contrast, Virginia's school attendance requirement applies to all school-age minors (not just to those minors who are parents). This latter approach is one that many states have chosen. Our initial review of states' AFDC waivers revealed that more than half the states that sought waivers to implement a school attendance requirement chose to implement it for all school-age minors, as Virginia has done.

What education programs will be acceptable?

States must determine what programs are acceptable for the purpose of satisfying the attendance requirement. The definition of "appropriate school setting" appears self-evident: an education program that leads to a high school diploma. Yet the issue is greatly complicated by the educational, emotional, and other needs of adolescents who have children and who apply for welfare. A large body of experience demonstrates that it is often extremely difficult to get teenage parents to stay in or (since many dropped out well before becoming pregnant) to return to regular high school programs.

All states in the study except Arizona require that teenage parents who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent attend a high school or GED program. Arizona strongly encourages teenage parents to work toward a diploma, although JOBS staff have the flexibility to assign a teenage parent to a training or education program that does not grant a high school diploma or equivalent, if that is in the best interest of the client.

Will the state fund special education programs for teenage parents?

An important related issue is the extent to which cash assistance programs will directly fund education and training services for welfare clients or will rely on services funded through other sources. This issue is similar to one all states confronted in deciding about the funding of employment training services under the former JOBS program. The issue is especially important for minor parents because states typically require that adolescents attend school--thus some program to serve this group already exists everywhere. Yet public schools may not be equipped to meet the special needs of teenage parents. Thus, as policymakers implement a requirement that teenage parents receiving cash assistance attend school, they must also decide whether or not the welfare agencies will provide funding for education programs tailored to the needs of parents.

All the states in the study relied primarily on the public education system and existing community resources to provide an educational program for teenage parents. Arizona, however, contracts directly for GED programs for teenage parents on a limited basis, and Massachusetts does so on a larger scale. Nearly 20 percent of teenage parents receiving cash assistance in Massachusetts are enrolled in GED programs that the state welfare agency funds directly.

How will case management be organized?

In organizing case management, states must determine how they will find a suitable school assignment, monitor compliance with the attendance requirement, and arrange and administer child care and transportation assistance. They also must decide how they will provide notice and determine whether good cause exists if the client does not comply, order sanctions, and administer the cash assistance grant. Programs also must provide for the flow of information among staff responsible for each function. In addition, states may provide more intensive, proactive case management in which a case manager has frequent contact with the teenage parent to provide personal support, assist with problem solving, and serve as an advocate.

The states adopted diverse approaches to case management. Arizona's waivers extended to custodial parents age 13 to 15 the requirement to participate as mandatory JOBS participants if they did not attend school. In line with this policy approach, the work of monitoring, providing support services, and administering financial incentives is conducted for teenage parents in the same way these functions are conducted in Arizona's JOBS program. Eligibility workers identify teenage parents, monitor school attendance of those who attend school, and refer to JOBS as mandatory participants those teenage parents who do not attend school. A JOBS case manager ensures that each mandatory JOBS participant enrolls in a suitable program, monitors attendance and progress, and requests sanctions when appropriate. The eligibility worker administers cash assistance, including sanctions.

California's Cal Learn program is administered through California's GAIN program (the state JOBS program). Case management services and monitoring are conducted by specialized staff who work only with teenage parents. Case management services include needs assessment; identifying appropriate health care, housing, and education services; and monitoring service delivery. Case management must be provided according to standards established for the Adolescent Family Life Program (AFLP) of California's Department of Health. In many counties, the welfare agency contracts with the local AFLP agency to conduct Cal Learn case management. Cal Learn case managers work closely with GAIN staff and income eligibility staff who are responsible for administering the program's fiscal incentives and support services.

In contrast to approaches in which responsibility for different functions is shared among different staff, Massachusetts has made income eligibility staff responsible for monitoring attendance and arranging support services, as well as for administering the grant. For cases that include a teenage parent, one eligibility worker (a teen specialist) is responsible for administering cash assistance, monitoring school attendance, arranging support services, and implementing sanctions. Massachusetts further concentrated this responsibility among a limited number of staff by having teen specialists handle all cases that include a teenage parent.

In Virginia, as in Massachusetts, eligibility workers are responsible for monitoring school attendance, assisting with child care, and administering the grant. In contrast to Massachusetts, however, cases with teenage parents are not assigned to specialized eligibility workers.

Caseloads per case manager differed across the study states, depending on whether case managers were expected to provide extensive personal support. In line with its goal of providing intensive case management, Cal Learn case managers may have caseloads of no more than 40. Thus, California has adopted a statewide policy of providing intensive case management with associated personal support. In Arizona, Young Families Can (YFC) in Phoenix provides case management for 150 to 180 teenage mothers under contract with the Arizona state welfare agency. YFC provides case management services similar in their intensity to those of Cal Learn, with caseloads of 25 to 35 teen parents per case manager. In contrast to the intensive model, case managers in the Arizona JOBS program handle 80 to 100 cases, including adults and teenage parents. Finally, teen specialists in Massachusetts have 65 to 80 cases per worker, approximately a third smaller than the caseloads other eligibility workers serve, in recognition of the additional work associated with monitoring school attendance.

What role will child care assistance play?

Imposing a school attendance requirement for teenage parents may increase their need for child care assistance. Child care is a major program support service offered to teenage parents in all four study states. For example, among teenage parents receiving cash assistance in Arizona in early 1996, one-fourth received child care assistance at some point during that year. State and local staff in each study state reported that both funding and slots for serving teenage parents' child care needs were adequate.

What methods will be used to monitor attendance?

States that impose school attendance requirements will have to establish procedures for monitoring attendance on a regular basis. Monitoring procedures differed across the study states in terms of the frequency of reports, who is responsible for furnishing the information, and what information is reported (days attended or grades received).

In Arizona, for teenage parents who were enrolled in school at their last case review, attendance is monitored only every six months as part of case redetermination. Teenage parents who are found to be dropouts at redetermination become JOBS mandatory. JOBS-mandatory teenage parents have their attendance monitored monthly (or, in some cases, weekly) through standard monitoring procedures for all JOBS participants.

In contrast, Massachusetts monitors the attendance of all teenage parents without a diploma or its equivalent (including those who were enrolled at their last review) on a monthly basis. The welfare agency requires teenage parents to have an attendance form completed each month by their high school or GED program. It is up to the teenage parent to take the form to the school or program and, usually, to see that it is returned to the welfare office.

Virginia monitors the school attendance of all school-age children who receive cash assistance on a monthly basis. Each month, the state welfare agency provides each of Virginia's 134 school districts with the list of children in their district subject to the attendance requirement. Districts then match the list of names to their enrollment and attendance records and report to the local welfare office the children who are either not enrolled or enrolled but considered truant.

California policymakers who designed the state's Cal Learn program chose a different strategy to promote the educational attainment of teenage parents. The state monitors the school progress and school grades of teenage parents rather than their attendance. To verify satisfactory progress and grades, Cal Learn participants must submit report cards to case managers four times in a 12-month period.

What financial incentives will be used?

Finally, states will have to determine the types of financial incentives they will use to enforce the attendance requirement. The sanctioning systems in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts focus on the behavior of the teenage parent. In Massachusetts, if a teenage parent fails to meet the attendance requirements and does not establish good cause, her needs--and, if the situation persists, those of her child--are removed from the grant. Thus, if noncompliance persists, the cases of teenage parents who head their own case are closed. In Arizona, the grant is reduced by 25 percent in the first month and 50 percent in the second month. In the third month of noncompliance, the case is closed.

In California, a sanction is assessed for failing to demonstrate adequate progress--either by not submitting a report card or by submitting one that does not show at least a D average--on four report cards per 12-month period. The sanction is $100 per unsatisfactory report card, with each sanction assessed over two months at $50 per month. A bonus of $100 is awarded up to four times in a 12-month period for a report card demonstrating satisfactory progress ("C" or better). California also awards a $500 bonus for attainment of a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Virginia monitors the school attendance of all school-age children included in a cash assistance case. When a school district reports as truant a child receiving cash assistance, state policy requires that the eligibility worker meet with the case head to develop a plan for addressing the child's attendance problem. If the parent or guardian fails to meet with the caseworker or to comply with the plan developed by the caseworker, the case is subject to a sanction, which entails removing the needs of the truant child from the grant.

The sanctioning policy used in Virginia differs in an important respect from the policies used in the other states in the study. In Arizona, California, and Massachusetts, an attendance sanction is deemed appropriate or not on the basis of the teenage parent's behavior. In Virginia, the sanction policy focuses on the behavior of the parent responsible for the minor. A sanction is imposed when the parent fails to take steps to correct the truant behavior of the child. Virginia's focus on the parent's behavior follows logically from the state's decision to include all school-age children (including those as young as age 6) in its attendance requirement, since younger children are subject to greater parental control.