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Journal Issue: Critical Issues For Children and Youths Volume 5 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1995

Effects of Welfare Reform on Teenage Parents and Their Children
J. Lawrence Aber Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Rebecca A. Maynard

Summary

A key question in welfare policy concerns the potential that welfare-to-work programs have to develop in teenage parents the motivation and skills to provide financially for themselves and their children. The Teenage Parent Welfare Demonstration was a major experiment initiated in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and evaluated by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., to test the impact of a welfare-to-work program for teenage parents which anticipated many features of the federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills training program later established in the Family Support Act of 1988. Teenage mothers entering the welfare system were randomly assigned to a regular services group or to an enhanced services group. Teen mothers in the enhanced services group faced mandatory school and work requirements enforced by financial sanctions and received support services such as case management, parenting workshops, child care assistance, and education and training opportunities.

This article reviews the policy context in which the Teenage Parent Welfare Demonstration was designed and implemented, and describes how participation in the enhanced services group affected the teen mothers as adults and as parents. Results showed that, for the reasonable aggregate annual cost of $2,400 per participant, the program increased the teenagers' attendance at school and job training programs, and modestly increased the proportion who were employed to 48%, compared with 43% among those receiving regular welfare services. As the participants' earnings from employment increased, their welfare grants shrank. Because these changes offset each other, the program did not improve the economic well-being of the families, although fewer tax dollars were needed to support them. The program did not discourage further childbearing, however, or affect either the parenting behavior of the young women or the development of their children, although the mothers who were most engaged in self-sufficiency activities were more positive and supportive when playing with their children.

The Teenage Parent Welfare Demonstration experience revealed that the problems faced by teenage parents vary widely, making tailored services necessary. The evaluation results suggest that supportive, mandatory welfare-to-work interventions need not harm parents or their children in the short term, and that their modest positive effects on the financial independence of the teenage mothers may yield long-term rewards.