Implementing policies and programs that target teenage parents requires, first of all, the ability to identify them. The new federal TANF regulations require states to deny cash assistance to unmarried minor custodial parents who do not live in an adult-supervised setting and who do not attend school regularly if they do not have a diploma or its equivalent. Therefore, compliance with TANF may require some state welfare agencies, which previously had no operational need to identify minor parents, to develop the capability to identify this population. Accurate and efficient identification and referral of teenage parents receiving cash assistance is essential because it enables welfare agencies to enforce the relevant requirements specific to teenage parents.
Moreover, states may want to target supportive services to this high-risk population. Many teenage parents face substantial obstacles to future success: unsupportive home environments, social isolation, long-standing poor school performance, lack of role models from whom they can learn parenting and other life skills, and struggles over child care. If state welfare agencies want to provide meaningful assistance to help teenage parents meet the new requirements, they must be able to identify teenage parents and refer them to the necessary support services.
Identifying all eligible teenage parents can be a major challenge.
Welfare policies that apply specifically to teenage parents pose a special challenge, because many young parents do not head their own cash assistance case. These policies require that welfare agencies collect information on the parent status of all case members, not just the case head. Procedures and computer data systems often are not designed to collect and maintain detailed information about case members other than the case head. Therefore, successful implementation of policies focusing on teenage parents frequently requires modifications of procedures and supporting information systems.
Teenage parents on someone else's case can be particularly difficult to identify.
Research on programs for teenage parents has consistently found that identifying young parents who receive cash assistance on someone else's case is difficult (Hershey 1991; Bloom et al. 1991; and Bloom et al. 1993). For example, the evaluations of the Learning, Earning, and Parenting (LEAP) program in Ohio and the Teenage Parent Demonstration in Illinois and New Jersey found that welfare agencies in these states had considerable difficulty identifying teenage parents who did not head their own cash assistance case. In contrast, it was relatively easy for all three programs to identify teenage parents who headed their own cash assistance cases.(1) The states in our study reported similar difficulties identifying teenage parents receiving cash assistance on someone else's case.