A National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: Annual Report 1997-98. Increasing Opportunities Through Welfare Reform

The Department is addressing teen pregnancy prevention through implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). Along with the $50 million allocated to states for abstinence-only education efforts, the law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with a new block grant, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Several provisions within TANF target or influence teens, particularly teen parents. These provisions send a clear message to teens that personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, education, and work are priorities-and that welfare assistance is time-limited.

There are two primary provisions under TANF designed to directly impact teen behavior and their access to welfare assistance; in order to receive assistance, teens 1) must stay in school, and 2) must live in an adult supervised setting. While states are required to meet this mandate, there is flexibility in how they design their programs. A summary of state teen parent provisions is included in Appendix IV.

School Attendance Requirement

Under TANF, states may not provide financial assistance to unmarried, minor, custodial parents who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent unless they are attending school. This provision was included to make clear to young parents that having a child does not release them from responsibility for completing their education; instead, having a child obligates them to complete their education in order to be more self-sufficient, prepared for work, and a responsible parent and role model for their child.

Innovative Approaches. Some states are meeting the school attendance requirement with innovative educational programs that improve academic skills and assist teens in being better parents and decreasing the risk of repeat pregnancies. These approaches, identified in the state plans, include:

Using community-based programs to assist teen parents to achieve education and self-sufficiency goals, including life skills, money management, parenting, nutrition, conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships, and job searching.

  • Considering skills training and education directly related to employment and satisfactory attendance in a high school as work activities for teen household heads.
  • Requiring minor parents and pregnant teens to complete an Agreement of Mutual Responsibility, which describes the steps the recipient must take to gain self-sufficiency.
  • Requiring minor parents to participate in an infant and child wellness program, as well as twenty hours of additional traditional classroom educational activities.

Lessons Learned. Because the new welfare reform law took effect in all states just over a year ago, there is limited information to help us understand how this provision has affected teen parents. However, a recent report, Implementing Welfare Reform Requirements for Teenage Parents: Lessons from Experience in Four States, funded by HHS, synthesizes lessons learned from four states that implemented similar provisions under waiver experiments. This report helps us understand some of the challenges and successes of implementing this and other teen provisions, and provides lessons for future planning.

Several lessons have emerged from the experiences of the four study states in implementing school attendance requirements. Those that impact teen parents include:

  • 1. Child care issues are important. Programs must not only insure that child care is available, but also address teenage parents' reluctance to use child care. All state and local offices visited for the study reported that many teenage parents do not like to use formal child care arrangements and prefer to rely on relatives for care. Most teenage parents are not well-informed consumers of child care; thus, they are insecure about judging the quality of care and asserting their rights as consumers.

    2. A range of education options is important for meeting the educational needs of teenage parents. Responsibilities of child-rearing, lack of support from families and friends for their efforts to stay in school, and their own immaturity can all make it difficult for teenage parents to stay in school. Findings also emphasized the importance of establishing a safe atmosphere where teenage parents can meet clear expectations and draw support from staff and peers. Programs providing both educational activities and life skills training, as well as counseling and case management, are helpful for teen parents. Educational activities include GED preparation classes, remedial adult basic education classes, and job readiness and job skills classes. Life skills classes cover such topics as the health and nutrition of the young mother and her child, child development, good parenting skills, and family planning.

    3. Offering GED programs is important. It is useful to offer such programs specifically for public assistance recipients, rather than relying solely on existing GED programs that are designed for other populations. The study found that many at-risk students and school dropouts entered GED programs from alternative high schools.

Living Arrangement Requirement

Another important provision affecting teen parents requires unmarried, minor parents who receive welfare assistance to live with a parent, adult relative, legal guardian, or, with some exceptions, in another approved adult-supervised setting. This provision is designed to ensure that teen parents have appropriate adult support and role models to assist them to be responsible parents. In some cases, states require that the teen parent's assistance be paid not directly to the teen parent, but to an alternative payee, typically the parent, guardian, or other approved adult caregiver.

Exceptions. Although most teen parents do, in fact, live at home with a parent or legal guardian, the legislation does make exceptions for teen parents whose home environment is not conducive to their health and safety or that of their child. The new law describes group homes, in particular Second Chance Homes, for minor parents. It also requires that the state welfare agency provide for or assist minor parents in locating a group home or other alternative adult-supervised setting, when they are unable to live with an adult relative or guardian. These provisions are expected to provide teen parents with the skills they need to become good role models and providers for their children, giving them guidance in parenting, child development, family budgeting, proper health and nutrition, and in avoiding repeat pregnancies. The four-state study cited above revealed, however, that even when group homes are provided, there is limited use of them to date.

Overall, the four-state study found that this requirement should be somewhat flexible and try to preserve any existing living arrangements that are stable and beneficial. If a state imposes a very restrictive living arrangement requirement, it may encounter local agency opposition and other difficulties.

Additional State Incentives

Bonus to Reward Decrease in Illegitimacy Ratio. Welfare reform included certain required provisions affecting teen parents, but it also provided an incentive for states to reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births. The Bonus to Reward Decrease in Illegitimacy Ratio will award bonuses to up to eight states (including Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands) to reward them for reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing among all women without increases in the abortion rate and encourage the development of new approaches to pregnancy prevention. The bonus will be awarded in FY 1999 contingent on data releases from NCHS. This provision is targeted toward all women, not just teenage mothers; however, in measuring state decreases in out-of-wedlock births, this measure would also include births among unmarried teens. The proposed rule for the bonus was published in the Federal Register on March 2, 1998. The comment period ended on May 1, 1998. HHS is currently in the process of developing a final rule.

This bonus serves as an incentive for states to establish goals and develop a strategy for the reduction of out-of-wedlock births, including births to teens. About one third of the states have reported goals to reduce out-of-wedlock births in their state PRWORA plans. HHS will continue to track state and community-based efforts to provide programs that seek to support teen parents in preventing second births and reduce out-of-wedlock births to teens.

Other Provisions in TANF. TANF included other provisions that are not directly focused on teens, but change resources available to teen parents or may provide new opportunities for teen parents.

  • Time Limit. Teen parents who are the heads of households, for instance, will be subject to a 60-month time limit to assistance.
  • Child Support. Child support enforcement efforts may affect teen parents. States are also given the option to develop special voluntary paternity procedures for teens. In addition, states are encouraged to require non-custodial teen parents under 18 years of age to "fulfill community work obligations." Another state option allows states to establish "grandparent liability" policies under which child support may be collected from the parent of a non-custodial, minor teen parent.
  • Medicaid. A state may terminate Medicaid to recipients of cash assistance who refuse to work, including minor parents who are heads of households.

These changes in welfare may provide incentives for teens to be responsible parents and may also act as deterrents toward becoming a teen parent.

Continued Information Gathering

The lessons learned through waiver demonstrations and early implementation of welfare reform have been disseminated to the states by HHS. The Department has conducted briefings on how the new welfare reform law will impact teen parents, as well as the opportunity it provides to reducing teen pregnancy.

Efforts are being made by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to collect additional, more current information from each state on how TANF provisions are being implemented. A plan for collecting this information has been developed and is currently being used in the HHS Regional Offices.

HHS will continue to work with states to capture lessons learned from early experiences implementing the provisions related to school attendance and living arrangement requirements, and other provisions in welfare reform. The Department is committed to gathering this information to find the most successful way to support the needs of teen parents; encourage their development as responsible, educated adults who are prepared to work, be self sufficient, and raise healthy children; and reduce the number of second pregnancies among teen parents.