Teenage Parents and Welfare Reform: Findings from a Survey of Teenagers Affected by Living Requirements

Article excerpt

An important component of welfare reform aimed at minor teenage parents is a requirement that the teenager live in an appropriate living situation, typically with a parent or guardian. The State of Massachusetts developed Teen Living Programs as an alternate living arrangement for minor teenage parents receiving welfare who are unable to live with family members. This article reports on a survey of 199 teenage parents who lived in the Teen Living Programs. Three research questions were asked: Who are the teenagers served by these programs? What services were provided? To what extent have teenagers attained key outcomes? Outcomes measured included educational attainment, employment, welfare status, homelessness, and subsequent pregnancy. Implications for social policy, further program development, and clinical intervention are discussed.

Key words: evaluation; teenage parents; welfare reform

Recent welfare reforms have resulted in substantial and fundamental changes at the federal and state levels. At the federal level the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193) went into effect October 1, 1996, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Because of growing concerns about the prolonged use of welfare by teenage mothers, several provisions of the legislation targeted teenage parents. Specifically, to receive assistance a minor teenage parent is now required to live in the home of a parent, adult relative, or guardian and to pursue a high school diploma or GED.

Although the new legislation allows states greater flexibility in designing programs, through the use of federal waivers several states had begun to experiment with welfare changes before the passage of the federal legislation. In Massachusetts, welfare reform was signed into law in February 1995. Compared with federal policy, Massachusetts state policy included a shorter time limit on benefits (two years rather than five) but less demanding work requirements (including exemptions for most parents of preschool children or those caring for a disabled family member). With regard to teenage parents, Massachusetts implemented living arrangement and school requirements consistent with the federal legislation. Unique among states, Massachusetts developed, funded, and implemented Teen Living Programs (TLPs) for teenage parent welfare recipients who are unable to meet the living requirement because of parental "abuse, neglect, addiction, or other extraordinary circumstances" (Massachusetts Department of Social Servi ces [MDSS], 1996, p. II-2). The TLPs are designed to "enable teen parents to develop, in a safe and supportive setting, the requisite skills and knowledge to be competent parents and to lead independent and productive lives after the completion of the program" (MDSS, 1996, p. II-2).

There are several reasons for this special intervention for teenage parents. Like most reforms, the living requirement may reduce program costs either by removing an incentive for teenagers to enroll on welfare or by sanctioning teenagers who do not comply with the requirement. In addition to cost savings, however, the living requirement might benefit young mothers and their children if they gain needed support in either a parents' or guardians' home or in a TLP. Furthermore, the provision of the TLP alternative recognized that not all young mothers have a safe home environment. As an intervention, the TLPs demonstrate a recognition of the complexity of young lives and the often substantial needs of young mothers. Thus, the program is designed to be comprehensive in terms of programming and length. Administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and MDSS, the program emphasizes the development of parenting skills and the protection of young parent and child from maltreatment in addition to th e goal of self-sufficiency. Because of concern that some teenagers would not abide by the living requirement, MDSS also implemented an Outreach Program to locate, assess, and provide services to teenage parents whose TAFDC [Temporary Assistance to Families with Dependent Children] cases have been closed or denied. …