Implementing Welfare Reform Requirements for Teenage Parents: Lessons from Experience in Four States . Identification and Local Welfare Staff


Identification of eligible teenage parents depends not only on data systems, but also on local welfare staff. Upon application for cash assistance, intake workers must ask about the relationships among all case members. In addition, when an eligibility worker adds a new baby to an existing case, that worker must determine whether the mother of the child is a teenager on the case who is now subject to one of the new teenage parent provisions. If the data system has the capability, the eligibility worker must enter the necessary relation and education information.

Staff must not only identify teenage parents, they must also refer the parents to the proper programs and services.

Properly identifying teenage parents is essential, because it provides the basis for referring those eligible to the appropriate programs and services. Even if the state's computer system identifies all (or almost all) teenage parents, eligibility workers may not always refer them properly. For example, in November 1995, Arizona began requiring 13- to 15-year-old custodial parents who were on cash assistance to participate in the state's JOBS program if they had dropped out of school.(2) The state's data system identifies teenage parents and links them to their children on the grant, even when the teenager is not the head of the case. Moreover, eligibility workers are trained to ask about relationships among all members of the case. In spite of these computer capabilities and procedures, statewide data provided by the state's welfare agency reveal that, during the first several months under the new policy, most parents under 16 who had dropped out of school had not been referred to JOBS. In early 1997, state welfare staff reported that eligibility workers continued to have difficulty remembering to refer these cases to JOBS.

The small number of eligible teenage parents may make it difficult to remember to refer them.

One important reason why local welfare staff may not refer eligible teenage parents to the proper program may be that eligible teenage parents represent such a small fraction of the caseload. For example, in Arizona, only 0.2 percent of cash assistance cases contain a teenage parent under age 16 (the group that may require a special referral to JOBS under the state's waiver). It may be difficult for eligibility workers to remember special rules and procedures that affect so few cases and that they so rarely need to use.