The experiences of the study states suggest some useful strategies for improving the process for identifying and referring eligible teenage parents. These strategies are summarized next.
Data systems that require welfare staff to record the mother of all minors on the case greatly facilitate identification.
A data system that includes as a required field a "pointer" that identifies the mother of each minor on a cash assistance case greatly improves the ease with which welfare agencies can identify teenage parents. This type of system links all minor parents on the case to their children, which allows welfare agencies to identify young parents in an automated fashion. Moreover, requiring local welfare staff to record the mother of a minor in order to move on to the next field in the data system will ensure that staff record this information completely. If, instead, the system uses a teenage parent flag that is not a required field, it will be unclear whether a blank field indicates that the minor is not a parent or that welfare staff simply forgot to flag the teenage parent in the system.
Training and regularly reminding staff about new procedures is crucial for complete identification.
Welfare agencies implementing new teenage parent provisions need to train local welfare staff to follow the new procedures for identification and referral. Agencies also should send regular reminders to local staff to use the new procedures during the first months under the policy. In addition, state welfare agencies may need to conduct periodic audits to determine the frequency with which local staff are referring eligible teenage parents and using the new data fields, as well as the level of accuracy of the recorded information.
Positive incentives to refer teenage parents may facilitate the referral process.
Establishing positive incentives for eligibility workers to identify and refer teenage parents may facilitate the referral process. For example, procedures for handling teenage parent cases in Massachusetts enable regular eligibility workers to reduce their workload by referring teenage parents to the appropriate services.
Teenage parent cases are handled by specialized eligibility workers known as "teen specialists" who, in most cases, work exclusively with cash assistance cases containing a teenage parent. Local staff in Massachusetts reported that regular eligibility workers (those not assigned to teenage parents) work diligently to find and refer teenage parents, because these potentially complicated cases are moved from their caseloads to those of the teen specialists. Staff believe that the desire of regular eligibility workers to make their workloads more manageable will soon cause almost all teenage parents to be identified and properly handled by local offices.
Referrals from other agencies can improve identification.
Given the potential challenges to identifying and referring all those subject to the new teenage parent provisions, it may be a useful strategy for welfare agencies to rely on referrals from other agencies that serve teenage parents. For example, Cal Learn staff considered referrals from schools and health care providers to be an extremely useful and important method of improving their coverage of eligible teenage parents and the speed with which they are brought into the program. Program staff from both California counties visited for the study reported that they were actively working to strengthen ties with schools and health care providers. These closer ties will allow Cal Learn staff to rely on these agencies for referrals of eligible teenage parents, so that the program can more quickly begin serving teenagers when they first become eligible for Cal Learn.
Local welfare staff in Massachusetts reported that the Division of Medical Assistance (which administers the state's Medicaid program) notifies the local welfare office of all births to families receiving cash assistance, so that the new baby is added to Medicaid. Staff described this process as very useful for identifying teenagers on existing cases who become parents.