Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Moving Into Adulthood: Were the Impacts of Mandatory Programs for Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents Sustained After the Programs Ended?

Publication Date
Jan 31, 1998


Report on Results of Long-Term Follow-up, Executive Summary

Moving into Adulthood:

Were the Impacts of Mandatory Programs for Welfare-Dependent Teenaged Parents Sustained After the Programs Ended?

by Ellen Eliason Kisker, Anu Rangarajan, and Kimberly Boller


Executive Summary


Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Teenage Parent Demonstration
  2. Target Population
  3. Evaluation Design
  4. Early Findings
  5. Longer-Term Self-sufficiency
  6. Subsequent Fertility
  7. Child Development
  8. Implications

How to obtain full report


  1. Overview of Teenage Parent Demonstration

    1. Because teenage childbearing often has negative consequences for the parents, their children, and society, policymakers have been searching for effective strategies not only for reducing teenage pregnancies but also for improving the life chances of teenagers who have children.  In 1986, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) launched the Teenage Parent Demonstration (TPD) to test the effectiveness of innovative programs for improving the economic self-sufficiency of teenage parents dependent on welfare.  The public welfare agencies in Illinois and New Jersey were awarded grants to design and implement the TPD programs.  The Illinois program, Project Advance, operated in the south side of Chicago, and the New Jersey program, Teen Progress, operated in Newark and Camden.  The programs began serving young mothers in mid-1987 and continued operations through mid-1991.


    2. Anticipating the mandatory participation requirements of the 1988 Family Support Act, the demonstration programs required teenage mothers on welfare for the first time with their child to participate in education, job training, or employment-related activities.  To help them meet this requirement, the programs offered support services -- mainly case management, child care assistance, and transportation assistance.  Unlike previous programs, the TPD programs required mothers to participate in activities regardless of the age of their child, to receive the maximum welfare grant.


  2. Target Population

    1. The target population for the demonstration included all teenagers in the demonstration sites who, for the first time, were parents and were receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) (either as the head of their own cases or as "minor" mothers) or (in Illinois only) had no children but were in the third trimester of a pregnancy and were receiving AFDC.  During the demonstration period, almost 6,000 teenage mothers joined the welfare rolls in the three demonstration sites, and nearly 90 percent attended intake and enrolled in the demonstration.  Half of those who enrolled in the demonstration were assigned at random to participate in the programs (the enhanced-services group); the rest became part of a control group and received regular AFDC services (the regular-services group).


    2. Most of the young mothers who enrolled in the demonstration were between 17 and 19 years old, belonged to a minority racial or ethnic group (African American or Hispanic), and had never been married.  Most of the teenagers who enrolled in the demonstration were parents of an infant under one year old.  Most had educational deficits and weak basic skills that posed obstacles to eventual self-sufficiency.  Only one-third had a high school diploma or GED, and more than half had reading scores below the eight-grade level.  Just over half had some work experience prior to enrolling in the program; however, the majority reported facing one or more barriers that constrained their ability to work, including health problems, limited English proficiency, child care problems, and transportation needs.


  3. Evaluation Design

    1. DHHS contracted with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. to evaluate the demonstration programs.  The first phase of the evaluation focused on documenting the implementation and costs of the programs, assessing the service needs and use of participants (including special studies of child care needs and use) and examining the impacts of the programs on mothers' prospects for economic self-sufficiency over the period that the demonstration programs were still operating.  The second phase of the evaluation (the focus of this report) measured the endurance of program impacts on mothers' prospects approximately three to four years after the programs ended and participants returned to their state's regular welfare policies and programs.  It also assessed program impacts on the well-being of the mothers' first-born children.


    2. Data for the evaluation were gathered from multiple sources, including program intake forms, two follow-up surveys, administrative records data, and child assessments.  The second follow-up survey, which is the main source of data for this report, targeted the full samples of mothers in Camden and Newark and a random subsample of mothers in Chicago approximately six and a half years after program intake.  Interviews were completed by telephone or in person with more than 85 percent of the target sample.  As soon as possible after the second follow-up interviews were completed, in-person child assessment sessions were scheduled with mothers who still lived in the demonstration areas and had custody of their first-born child and whose first-born child was between the ages of five and eight.  Child assessments, which included self-administered questionnaires completed by the mothers while interviewers conducted tests and interviews with their children, were completed with 78 percent of eligible mothers and children.


  4. Early Findings

    1. The first phase of the evaluation showed that states can operate large-scale, mandatory work-oriented programs for teenage parents (Maynard 1993).  The demonstration programs were generally well implemented and achieved high rates of initial participation and moderate rates of ongoing participation.  Nearly 90 percent of the young mothers who were identified as eligible for the programs enrolled, and, of those who enrolled, 92 percent participated in program activities beyond the initial intake and assessment.  Participants were required to engage in a full-time schedule (30 hours per week) of education, training, or employment (or some combination of these and other activities).  Case managers were held accountable for helping the young mothers address their barriers to participation; the young mothers had to comply or face financial penalties.  Both program staff and the young mothers who were required to participate in these programs felt that the programs were helpful and that the participation requirements were fair.  Throughout the demonstration period, the programs kept between 30 and 50 percent of the young mothers actively involved in school, job training, or a job, while others were enrolled in workshops and other activities preparatory to entering one of these major self-sufficiency-oriented activities.


    2. The demonstration programs increased rates of school attendance, job training, and employment but produced few significant differences in marriage, living arrangements, fertility, or child support during the first two years following intake.  The first phase of the evaluation showed that overall levels of participation in school, job training, or employment over the two years following program intake were substantially higher than they would have been in the absence of the demonstration programs' supportive services and participation mandates (Maynard, Nicholson, and Rangarajan 1993).  The programs were most effective in increasing school enrollment levels.  The program-induced increases in employment were accompanied by earnings gains that, combined with program sanctions, resulted in lower rates of dependence on public assistance.  However, except for those who became employed, the economic welfare of participants did not change.


  5. Longer-Term Self-Sufficiency

    1. For most of the young mothers, the cycle of welfare dependency has not yet been broken.  Approximately 70 percent of the mothers in both the regular- and enhanced-services groups were still receiving welfare at the time of the second follow-up survey.  At the time of the survey, six to seven years after program intake, approximately one-fourth of the mothers in Camden, one-third of those in Newark, and about 40 percent of those in Chicago were employed.  Although marriage or a stable relationship with a partner offers an alternative route to economic self-sufficiency, most (90 percent) of the young women in the sample had not taken this route by the time of the second follow-up survey.  Employment was not always sufficient to lift mothers out of poverty; at the time of the second follow-up survey, more than three-fourths of the mothers lived in households with incomes below the poverty level.


    2. The promising early impacts of the programs on employment-related activities and welfare dependence faded once the demonstration programs ended and participants returned to regular AFDC and Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) programs.  The demonstration programs' early impacts on participation in employment-related activities (work, training, or education) faded three to four years after the programs ended.  Similarly, the modest short-term impacts of the demonstration programs on welfare receipt faded once participants returned to regular AFDC.


    3. The early impacts of the programs on employment-related activities and welfare started to erode at about the time sanctions and support services ended for the enhanced-services group.  After the demonstration programs ended in mid-1991 and mothers in the enhanced-services group no longer faced activity requirements or received any special services, mothers in the regular-services group caught up to their counterparts in the enhanced-services group, and program impacts on employment, earnings, and educational attainment faded.  Moreover, as the earnings impacts eroded and the program sanctions for noncompliance with program requirements ended, impacts on welfare receipt and benefit amounts largely disappeared.


    4. Mothers in both the regular- and the enhanced-services groups reported receiving very little financial child support.  Fewer than 20 percent reported receiving any child support income six to seven years after enrolling in the demonstration; only about 10 percent reported receiving regular financial support from the noncustodial father of their first-born child.  Noncustodial fathers were more likely to provide in-kind support.  For instance, nearly one-fourth of the mothers reported that they currently received any clothing or toys from the father of their first-born child.  Fewer than one-quarter of the mothers in either group reported that their first-born child had regular contact with his or her father.(1)


  6. Subsequent Fertility

    1. On average, during the six- to seven-year follow-up period, the young mothers in both the regular- and the enhanced-services group became pregnant twice and gave birth to between one and two additional children.  Many of the young mothers became pregnant again and had their second child shortly after going onto welfare.  Because they continued having children after enrolling in the demonstration, more than half the sample members had children age three and under at the time of the second follow-up survey.  Thus, to participate in employment-related activities, many still needed child care for very young children.


    2. Exposure to the demonstration welfare policies and programs did not substantially reduce subsequent pregnancies and births.  The programs in Newark and Chicago had no significant impacts on pregnancies and births.  In Camden, where pregnancy rates were highest, the program did not reduce the likelihood that mothers in the enhanced-services group ever became pregnant or the likelihood that they gave birth to a second child during the follow-up period.  Mothers in the enhanced-services group, however, had slightly fewer pregnancies and births.


  7. Child Development

    1. When they were in elementary school, the first-born children of the teenage mothers performed poorly, compared with children nationally, on several measures of development and well-being.  Because early development sets children on a developmental trajectory that affects their later cognitive and social-emotional well-being, it is important to note that the children in the sample received substantially lower scores than children nationally on the PPVT-R receptive vocabulary test.  Analyses of national data suggest that the PPVT-R is biased against minority children; however, because research suggests that the PPVT-R is a good predictor of scholastic aptitude for both African American and white children, the PPVT-R remains a useful measure of cognitive well-being when comparisons are made within racial groups or between groups whose racial and ethnic composition is the same.  The PPVT-R scores received by children in the TPD sample, who were mostly African American and Hispanic, are somewhat lower than the scores of African American and Hispanic children nationally.  The children in the sample received higher scores than children nationally on a measure of behavior problems.


    2. The programs produced no impacts on mothers' parenting or on the quality of the home environments they provided for their first-born children.  In Camden and Chicago, there were no significant differences in the key measures of parenting and the quality of the home environments of children of mothers in the regular- and enhanced-services groups.  For Newark, the analysis suggests that the children of mothers in the enhanced-services group lived in slightly lower-quality home environments than did the children of mothers in the regular-services group and that the children had mothers who were slightly less responsive and accepting.  These differences are small, however, and not very meaningful in terms of their likely implications for children's development.


    3. Requiring teenage mothers to participate in activities, and increasing their use of child care when their children were very young, had neither harmful nor beneficial effects on their children's development.  The programs increased the extent and intensity of child care, especially center-based care, during the first two years after intake.  When children were in child care during that period, most were in care for at least 30 hours per week (Schochet and Kisker 1992).  We found no significant differences between the regular- and enhanced-services groups in children's cognitive and social-emotional well-being and physical health when these children were five to eight years old, except in Newark, where some small differences in children's outcomes were significant.  On two out of four achievement tests, children of mothers in the enhanced-services group in Newark scored significantly lower than did children of mothers in the regular-services group.  Mothers in the enhanced-services group in Newark also rated their children significantly lower on a measure of prosocial behavior.  These differences are small, however, and in developmental terms, not very meaningful.


  8. Implications

    1. Since the TPD was conducted, welfare policies have changed.  The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 sets forth clear expectations for families receiving welfare through education and residency requirements for minor, unmarried teenage parents and through work requirements, time limits on lifetime welfare receipt, and requirements for cooperation with establishing child support for all welfare recipients.  Programs and policymakers may find the following lessons from the experiences of the TPD programs useful, however, since they implemented clear expectations for participation in self-sufficiency-oriented activities and provided case management and support services to help young mothers meet those expectations.


    2. Teenage mothers respond positively to clear expectations when financial consequences and support services accompany those expectations.  As long as the programs were operating, participation requirements were in effect, and support services were available, mothers in the enhanced-services group were significantly more likely to continue their education, attend job training, or work.  However, after the programs ended and the clear expectations for participation in self-sufficiency-oriented activities no longer existed, such impacts were no longer obtained.


    3. Most teenage parents are capable of employment but need encouragement and some support services.  Most of the young mothers were employed at some time during the six-and-a-half-year follow-up period.  Few of the jobs obtained by the young mothers paid good wages, however, and many did not offer benefits such as health insurance.  Many of the mothers in school, training, and employment needed help finding child care and dealing with breakdowns in child care arrangements.  A significant proportion also needed help paying for child care.


    4. Ensuring access to child care was an important part of the intervention, but fewer participants used program-provided child care subsidies than had been anticipated.  All three demonstration programs encouraged participants to rely on child care arrangements that they could obtain without additional financial assistance from the program, to the extent feasible.  With this encouragement, about one-third of those active participants needing child care obtained free child care, most often from relatives.  One-third of the mothers in school, training, or work needed help paying for child care.  The proportion needing child care assistance may be different under the new welfare policies, if the type or amount of child care assistance offered is different or if relatives who would otherwise provide child care must seek employment themselves.


    5. The evaluation results suggest that requiring teenage mothers of young children to participate in full-time (30 hours per week) out-of-home activities is not harmful to children, as some worried that it might be.  Requiring teenage mothers to participate in education or employment-related activities for an average of two and a half years when their children were very young, and providing child care assistance when necessary, did not adversely affect children's well-being when they were in early elementary school.  It also, however, did not help them over this period.  If an important goal is to help children overcome the disadvantage of being born to a teenage mother, then programs may need to adopt a two-generation approach and offer high-quality developmental child care or other child-focused services such as intensive parenting education (or help mothers gain access to such services).


    6. It is important to help teenagers reduce their fertility, but different strategies than those tried in this demonstration are needed.  The information about contraception and sources of birth control provided by the programs during the workshops was not enough to enable the teenage mothers to reduce their fertility.  Other studies of teenage pregnancy prevention interventions suggest that more intensive, focused strategies, such as providing information, counseling, referrals, and follow-up during home visits by nurses, might work better.


    7. The demonstration underscores the difficulty of changing the life courses of poor teenage parents by intervening after they become parents.  The consequences of teenage parenthood for both mothers and children are serious, and many of the teenage mothers who enrolled in the demonstration programs were still living in difficult circumstances as young adults.  The programs did not substantially alter the life courses of the disadvantaged young mothers they served.  The difficulty of improving the lives of mothers who give birth as teenagers highlights the importance of developing strategies for preventing teenage pregnancies in the first place.  For welfare-dependent teenage parents, strategies that build on the demonstration programs' promising early experiences and follow through by continuing to hold expectations for participation in employment-related activities and to provide needed support services over a longer period may be more successful in improving the life courses of teenage parents.


    8. The noncustodial fathers of children born to poor teenage parents provide little social or economic support.  A small proportion of the noncustodial fathers of the mothers' first-born children provided financial or in-kind child support when their children were still very young, and even fewer provided support when the children were in early elementary school.  Most did not have regular contact with their child.  The programs attempted to promote fathers' financial and social support by counseling mothers, providing services to fathers (in Chicago), and arranging for staff from the state child support enforcement agency to spend time at the program site conducting workshops and interviews necessary for establishing paternity and child support orders (in Newark and Chicago).  The experiences of the demonstration programs suggest that stronger measures, such as mandating mothers' cooperation with child support enforcement procedures, providing more extensive counseling to convince mothers of the importance of fathers in their children's lives, and/or designing more comprehensive program services for fathers, may be needed to increase the support teenage mothers receive from the fathers of their children.


  1. The evaluation did not collect information to determine whether the relatively low levels of support from and contact with fathers resulted from mothers' desires to avoid contact with their former partners, the noncustodial fathers' desires to distance themselves from their former partner or their lack of interest in or ability to maintain a relationship with their child, or other factors. (Return to text after footnote)


Copies of the full report of the Six-Year Follow-up or other Teenage Parent Demonstration reports can be obtained by contacting:

Jan Watterworth, Librarian
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 2393
Princeton, NJ 08543-2393
(609) 799-3535
Youth | Parents
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)