The extent to which maternity group homes have impacts on their residents may depend on the specific experiences of these teen mothers while residing in the home. The previous chapter discussed what maternity group homes offer their residents. In this section, we describe what happens for teens in the homes, including how long they remain in residence, their satisfaction with their maternity group home experience, and what individual residents do while living there.
Length of stay. There is considerable variation in how long teens stay in maternity group homes, a result of program rules as well as the individual preferences of residents. Studies of different maternity group homes report average lengths of stay ranging from just 67 days to 2 years (Reich 1996; Fischer 2000; and Collins, Stevens, and Lane 2000).(1) Residents leave maternity group homes for a variety of reasons, including:
- Reaching the time limit or age eligibility limit of the maternity group home
- Finding an alternative living situation (for example, receiving a voucher for public housing or subsidized housing)
- Dissatisfaction with living in the maternity group home, especially its restrictions and obligations
- Termination for a serious infraction of program rules
Since some teens leave because their need for the maternity group home has ended, and some homes are designed to provide only temporary housing, a short length of stay is not necessarily a negative outcome. However, the average length of time that teens stay in a maternity group home could be an important factor in their potential success in achieving some longer-term goals, since programs are less likely to be able to meet their goals if families stay for considerably shorter periods of time than programs intend. The literature on maternity group homes indicates that residents often leave well before any program limits on the length of time they can stay expire. For example, a study of the FDC home in Georgia found that, although that program was designed for families to remain in residence for one year, only about 17 percent of families remained that long (Fischer 2000). FDC staff considered a six-month stay to be a reasonable benchmark of commitment, but 46 percent of families left even before that point. One study of Massachusetts' Teen Living Program network reported that the average length of stay was under eight months, despite program rules allowing teens to remain for two years in many homes and an unlimited time (until they reach the maximum age of 20 or 21) in others (Collins, Stevens, and Lane 2000). However, another study of the Teen Living Program reported that the average length of stay is increasing over time (Sawyer 2000). An implementation study of the Teen Living Program concluded that the long-term nature of the program is critical (Collins, Lane, and Stevens 2003).
Satisfaction. Participant satisfaction may be correlated with more positive outcomes, since satisfied residents may be more likely to focus on achieving goals and dissatisfied participants are more likely to leave maternity group homes before they reach their goals. In addition, residents are more likely to be satisfied if the homes are providing the services they need. The literature indicates that residents are pleased with some aspects of maternity group home programs, but that they have problems with others, particularly program rules. A study of Massachusetts' Teen Living Program network found that more than 80 percent of responding current and former maternity group home residents rated child care and educational components pretty helpful or very helpful (Collins, Lemon, and Street 2000). When residents were asked what was most helpful about the maternity group home, the most common responses related to specific classes or services (24 percent), emotional support from staff and other residents (20 percent), and fulfillment of basic needs (14 percent). The most common responses when Teen Living Program residents were asked what was not helpful about the maternity group home related to program rules (26 percent) and conflicts with staff or other residents (20 percent). Elsewhere in the literature are anecdotal reports that some maternity group home residents find the numerous house rules and obligations many homes impose on residents to be overly restrictive. For example, a study of the FDC home in Georgia found that more than half of residents had difficulty abiding by rules relating to overnight leave and curfews, attendance at group sessions, employment preparation requirements, and payment of rent (Fischer 2000).
Activities and services received. Maternity group home residents seem to take advantage of the many of the support services and activities the homes offer, including education. A study of Massachusetts' Teen Living Program network found that high proportions of former residents received services such as parenting and life skill classes, education, counseling, and child care (Collins, Stevens, and Lane 2000). A study of the FDC home in Georgia, which requires residents to select from among three required tracks, found that 59 percent chose the vocational training track, 19 percent the employment track, and 16 percent the GED track (the remaining 6 percent did not stay at the home long enough to choose) (Fischer 2000). Different activities are appropriate for different maternity group home residents. An implementation study of the Teen Living Program network concluded that program flexibility is important in serving the differing needs of each individual resident (Collins, Lane, and Stevens 2003).
Public assistance receipt. Maternity group home residence may be correlated with patterns of reliance on public assistance. Although aiding their residents in achieving financial independence in the longer term is a goal for many maternity group homes, homes often encourage or even require families to connect with the benefits for which they are eligible during their residence. This can result in rising rates of reliance on public assistance between the time the teen applies to enter a maternity group home and the time the teen leaves the home, then falling rates of welfare receipt after exit. For example, in the FDC home in Georgia, which deliberately connected residents with a variety of types of public assistance benefits during the program, receipt of TANF rose from 57 percent at intake to 84 percent at exit, then fell to 43 percent, a lower level than it had been at intake (Fischer 2000).(2) A study of Massachusetts' Teen Living Program network, for which receipt of TANF is an eligibility requirement, found that about 71 percent of former residents were still receiving TANF at the time of the follow-up interview (about one year after they left the maternity group home, on average), a decline from 100 percent at the time teens entered the maternity group home (Collins, Stevens, and Lane 2000). Some decline in receipt of public assistance is to be expected, however; studies of welfare recipients have found similar reductions in welfare receipt within a year or two after enrollment (Kisker, Rangarajan, and Boller 1998).
Health of teens and their babies. Maternity group homes often attempt to promote healthy behaviors and encourage teen residents to utilize health services. Most provide assistance to residents in finding health care providers and getting to doctor appointments, and some even have health clinics on site. Thus, we might expect maternity group home residents to have adequate health care-related outcomes, despite disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, a study of two maternity group homes in California found the pregnant teen residents to be healthy, for which the study credited their ongoing obstetric care (Koniak 1989).
Other studies report positive outcomes relating to the health of children born in or residing in maternity group homes. For example, an early study of Massachusetts' Teen Living Program network found that the children of most Teen Living Program residents were in good physical health, although somewhat higher proportions had asthma (Reich 1996).(3) The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP) maternity group homes network in Georgia reports that 100 percent of the children in the program had been immunized (G-CAPP 2004). Other studies cite positive statistics on birth weights, which can be affected by access to health care during pregnancy. These studies found that between 90 and 100 percent of babies born to residents were of normal or above-average birth weight for teenage mothers, but they offered no basis for comparison (Sylvester and Reich 1999; and Reich 1996).
Repeat pregnancies. Most maternity group homes have rules restricting visitors, particularly male visitors and overnight guests. Many also offer classes on such topics as birth control and family planning. Thus, it is not surprising that statistics on the proportions of teens experiencing repeat pregnancies during their time of residence in a maternity group home are low. In studies reporting on this issue, the percentage of residents becoming pregnant while residing in the home range from less than 1 percent to 5 percent (Sylvester and Reich 1999; Sawyer 2000; Sylvester 1995; and Reich 1996). Some of these studies compare these rates favorably to statistics on repeat pregnancies among all teen mothers nationwide, or in the local area of the particular home. This result is not surprising, however, since many teens move into maternity group homes before or soon after the birth of their child, and the length of stay in the homes is often short.
Father involvement. Many maternity group homes provide outreach or other services to the fathers of residents' babies. One study found that the percentage of fathers actively involved in their child's lives increased from about 29 percent at intake to 47 percent at exit, although only 13 percent of children's fathers actually participated in program activities (Sawyer 2000). This study also found an increase between intake and exit in the proportion receiving financial support from their children's fathers (from four percent to seven percent). However, since these changes are measured using program intake as the baseline, it is likely that some teens were not receiving support then because they had not yet delivered their baby.