Service Needs and Use of Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents. Key Findings Related to Service Needs and Use


The experience of the Teenage Parent Demonstration documents the significant numbers and the diverse backgrounds and service needs of first-time teenage mothers who require support to pursue self-sufficiency-oriented activities.  It also demonstrates that many of these teenage parents will, with appropriate incentives and support, participate in mandatory programs designed to promote their pursuit of self-sufficiency.  Some need little or no encouragement to avail themselves of services, while others require extensive case management and remedial and support services.

Highlights from the study findings include:

  • Nearly 90 percent of all eligible teenagers enrolled in the programs, which entailed completing an Intake Form, taking the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), and being assigned to either the mandatory enhanced-services participant group or the regular-services control group.
  • The typical participant was between 17 and 19 years of age, unmarried, and a member of a racial or ethnic minority.  The family background of these teenagers indicates a fairly high level of disadvantage.  Nearly half of the young women grew up in households that received welfare most or all of the time.
  • At the time they became eligible for the program, many of the young mothers had educational deficits that generally posed obstacles to self-sufficiency.  One-third of the teenagers were school dropouts and many of those enrolled in school were behind in grade for their age.  Even the one-third who had obtained a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate had weak basic skills.
  • Over half of the young women in the sample had worked at some point prior to intake, and three-fourths of those with some experience had held jobs that paid more than the minimum wage.  Many faced child care problems (one-third) and transportation problems (one-fourth) that limited their employment, however.
  • About 30 percent of the participants served in the demonstration would have been required to participate in the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program under the terms of the Family Support Act (FSA)  (Figure I.1, not shown here, see printed report).  An additional 34 percent were at high risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory because they would turn 16 or might drop out of school.
  • The characteristics of participants who met the mandatory JOBS participation requirement at enrollment were similar to those who were at high risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory.  The major differences were their school status, which defined the two groups, and the fact that substantially higher proportions of the JOBS-mandatory group were Hispanic and not living with a parent.
  • Those who were at low risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory tended to be a relatively less disadvantaged group than either the JOBS-mandatory or the high-risk groups.  Most notably, they tended to be older, scored an average of more than one grade level above the other two groups on the TABE, had less of a history of welfare dependence, and had substantially more prior work and training experience than those targeted by the FSA.
  • Over 90 percent of those who enrolled subsequently participated in program activities.  Over 80 percent of the participants completed an extensive assessment and developed a self-sufficiency plan that established long-term goals and specified the intermediate steps to be taken to move toward these goals (see Figure I.2).  During the follow-up period covered, 70 percent engaged in at least one of three major activities -- school, job training, or employment; 47 percent enrolled in school; 29 percent enrolled in job training; and 33 percent held a job.
    Figure I.2 shows participation by activity by site.
  • Participations rates varied significantly by site, due in part to differences in program emphasis, local opportunities, and the characteristics of the populations being served.  Over 90 percent of the teenagers in Chicago completed at least some of a series of mandatory workshops held in quick succession over three days, while around 45 percent in the New Jersey programs completed at least one of a much more extensive set of required workshops.  About three-fourths of the teenagers in Chicago participated in education, training, and/or employment, compared with about two-thirds of the Camden teenagers and well over half of the Newark teenagers.
  • At any given time over the first 12 months after enrollment, between 40 and 60 percent of participants were active in some demonstration-approved or sponsored activity.  The incidence of employment increased substantially in the second and third years after enrollment.  Moreover, the later cohort of enrollees also showed a greater tendency to participate in major activities (especially training and employment) relative to the earlier cohort, reflecting the increased emphasis of the program on employment over time and its increased experience in establishing links with community services.
  • Participation in program activities was highest among those who had high test scores, who were enrolled in school at intake, who did not have any health problems, who were black, and who lived at home with nonworking mothers.  The influence of educational attainment on participation in any activity was inconsistent across the three sites.  Educational attainment, however, did have a consistent effect on participation in the individual activities.  In each site, having a high school degree had a negative effect on participation in education and a positive effect on participation in training and employment.  The programs apparently direct high school students and dropouts into educational activities while helping high school graduates find an appropriate job or training program.
  • We observed few differences in the activity selections of the JOBS-mandatory and high-risk portions of the sample.  The participation patterns of these two groups differed somewhat from the pattern for those at low risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory.  The JOBS-mandatory group and those at high risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory -- high school dropouts and those in high school at enrollment -- had higher rates of entry into education, while those at low risk of becoming JOBS-mandatory -- those with a high school diploma at enrollment -- had higher rates of entry into training and employment activities.  The overall participation rates among the high-risk and low-risk samples, however, were similar and were higher than the participation rates of JOBS-mandatory teenagers.
  • The mandatory participation requirement was important in getting many of the teenage parents involved in the program.  In all programs, sanction warning notices were sent to teenagers who failed to comply with some program activity.  Sanction warnings, however, were issued much more often than sanctions were imposed (that is, than AFDC grants were reduced).  About 40 to 50 percent of the participants in the New Jersey programs and 30 percent of the participants in Chicago were sanctioned either for not enrolling or for not complying with participation requirements for ongoing activities.
  • Sanctions were often imposed as part of an effort to promote enrollment in the program.  Intake-related sanctions raised rates of intake completion and made participants aware that participation requirements would be treated seriously.  Of the 88 percent of the teenage parents required to participate in the program who completed intake, a third did so only after they were either sanctioned or sent a sanction notice.
  • Sanctions were apparently less effective in promoting ongoing participation in approved activities.  Among inactive participants, the effect of being sanctioned on the probability a teenage parent would begin participating in an activity was small and inconsistent across the three sites -- positive in Chicago and negative in Camden and Newark.