Implementing Welfare Reform Requirements for Teenage Parents: Lessons from Experience in Four States . Identification and Computer Data Systems

10/31/1997

A computer data system that tracks the parental status of all case members, not just the case head, greatly enhances a welfare agency's ability to identify teenage parents receiving cash assistance. For example, Arizona's automated data system for tracking cash assistance cases links teenage parents to their children on the grant, even if the teenager does not head the case. This capability makes it possible for the state welfare agency to identify, in an automated fashion, all teenage parents receiving cash assistance.

Identifying information may be inaccurate or incomplete.

Even if a state's data system is able to identify teenage parents, however, this information may be inaccurate or incomplete. Identifying information is particularly likely to be incomplete if local welfare agencies have no operational reason to identify this population. Virginia's computer data system illustrates this point. The state's central computer system for tracking cash assistance cases has for many years contained a field for flagging teenage parents. However, an analysis conducted by the state welfare agency as part of this study revealed that only about one in four teenage parents receiving cash assistance on someone else's case was actually flagged in the state's computer system. Because Virginia has no policies or programs that require identifying teenage parents, it appears that local welfare staff do not use the teenage parent field consistently.

Agencies may need to modify data systems to facilitate identification.

If a welfare agency's data system does not track the necessary information for identifying teenage parents, the agency may choose to modify its system. For example, when Massachusetts first implemented a school attendance requirement for teenage parents, the state welfare agency added to the data system a field for flagging teenage parents. The state welfare agency instructed eligibility workers to use the flag each time they encountered a teenage parent on one of their cases. However, even when states modify their data systems in this way, staff in local welfare offices may not use the new fields consistently. For example, welfare officials in Massachusetts reported that local staff often did not use the new fields for flagging teenage parent cases.