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

10/31/1997

States implementing a requirement governing the living arrangements of minor parents must make decisions on several issues of policy and program design. For example, they must determine what living arrangements are acceptable and how they will substantiate a minor's claim that her parents' home is unsafe. States must also determine how they will verify compliance with the requirement on a regular basis. Here, we outline some of the key decisions facing states, using the choices of our study states as a guide. Table 3 summarizes the living arrangement policies in these three states.

What living arrangements will be allowed for minor parents receiving cash assistance?

When states first implement a living arrangement requirement, they will have to determine the set of living arrangements they consider acceptable for minor parents receiving cash assistance. The study states vary on the set of acceptable living arrangements for minor parents. Arizona and Massachusetts allow minor parents to live with a parent, an adult relative, or a legal guardian.(2) However, they do not allow minor parents to live with unrelated adults who have not been declared their legal guardians. In contrast, Virginia allows minor parents to live with any adult, provided the local welfare agency considers the adult able to function as an appropriate guardian for the minor and her child.

TABLE 3
MINOR PARENT LIVING ARRANGEMENT POLICIES IN THREE STATES

  Arizona Massachusetts Virginia
When did policy take effect? November 1995 November 1995 July 1995
What are the acceptable living arrangements for minor parents? With an adult relative

With a legal guardian

With an adult relative

With a legal guardian

In a state-sponsored group home for teenage parents

With a responsible adult
Does the state welfare agency fund teenage parent group homes? No Yes No
Under what circumstances can minor parent live independently? No parent or legal guardian available

OR

Child protective services substantiates the minor's claim the home is unsafe

OR

Minor has lived independently for at least 12 months prior to applying for assistance

17 years old and regularly attending school

AND

Child welfare authorities assigns client low priority for placement in a state-sponsored group home

No parent or legal guardian available

OR

Local welfare agency concludes that the minor parent or her child's well-being would be jeopardized by living with the parent or guardian

What is the process for investigating allegations that the parental home is unsafe? Referral to child protective services Referral to child protective services Local welfare agency determines process
What is the process for monitoring living arrangements? Notes from landlords

Other "third party" verification

Forms completed by landlords Consulting school records

Consulting housing authority records

Landlord verification

 

Will the state welfare agency fund teenage parent group homes?

Some advocates and policymakers have argued that, if federal or state governments impose a requirement that minor parents receiving cash assistance must live in an adult-supervised setting, they should provide funding for teenage parent group homes. These homes would serve as an alternative for minor parents unable to live with their parents because the parent is dead, in prison, or cannot be located. The group homes could also serve as an alternative adult-supervised living arrangement when the minor parent makes a substantiated claim of abuse or neglect on the part of her parent. The PRWORA does not provide funding for states to establish teenage parent group homes. The legislation does, however, direct state welfare agencies to assist minor parents who have no adult relative or guardian with whom they can live in locating a group home or other appropriate adult-supervised living arrangement.

Of the states in our study, only Massachusetts has funded group homes for teenage parents in conjunction with imposing a living arrangement requirement. As part of its welfare reform initiative, 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. This funding supports 22 group homes statewide that can serve more than 100 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.

Under what circumstances will a minor parent be able to live independently?

When establishing a living arrangement policy, states also will have to determine under what circumstances, if any, they will allow minor parents to live independently. The study states all allow minor parents to live independently under certain limited circumstances; however, the particular circumstances vary across the states. For example, Arizona allows minor parents to continue to live independently if they have been living independently for at least 12 months before applying for cash assistance; Massachusetts and Virginia do not.

Massachusetts has a particularly narrow set of circumstances under which a minor parent receiving cash assistance can 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 child welfare authorities to be capable of living independently. In contrast, Arizona and Virginia allow minor parents to live independently when no parent or guardian is living or can be located or when there is a substantiated claim of abuse or neglect on the part of the minor's parent. Under these circumstances, Massachusetts requires minor parents to live in a state-sponsored group home.

What will the process be for determining whether the parental home is unsafe?

States also must decide how the welfare agency will determine whether the minor custodial parent or her child is at risk of physical or emotional harm if they reside in the home of the parent or legal guardian. In particular, when a minor parent alleges that she is at risk in her parent's home, the cash assistance agency must determine whether the allegation is true. Arizona and Massachusetts have imposed specific guidelines at the state level, giving child protective services the responsibility for making this determination. In Virginia, local welfare agencies are responsible for making this determination. However, these local agencies may involve the child protective services if these agencies deem it appropriate to do so.

How will living arrangements be monitored?

When a state imposes a living arrangement requirement for minor parents, it must develop procedures for verifying compliance with the policy. In the states in our study, local welfare staff verify compliance with the living arrangement requirement when an unmarried minor parent applies for cash assistance as the head of a case and again at regular case reviews. Local welfare agencies also require verification of living arrangements whenever a minor parent who heads her own case reports a change of address. Local agencies monitor only the living arrangements of minor parents who head their own cash assistance cases, because those who are not case heads are presumed to be living with an adult guardian (the case head).

The specific methods of verifying living arrangements differ somewhat across the states studied. In Massachusetts, an unmarried minor parent who heads her own cash assistance case must have her landlord and the primary tenant on the lease complete a form verifying where and with whom the minor lives. She must also provide proof of relationship to the primary tenant, typically with a birth certificate. In addition, teen specialists conduct mandatory annual home visits for all teenage parents receiving cash assistance (including those on someone else's case). State welfare officials report that these visitsare intended primarily to monitor the general quality of the teenage parent's home environment. However, the visits also will serve as a means of monitoring compliance with the living arrangement requirement.

In Virginia, when a minor parent applies for cash assistance, intake workers first consult local school district records to try to verify a minor parent's address and the name of her guardian. Local staff in one large agency visited for the study are able to access this information from the welfare office through a direct link to the district's computer system. For minor parents living in public housing, intake workers are also able to verify living arrangements by using the local welfare agency's computer data link to local housing authority records.