Impact of Welfare Reform on Teen Parents Significant

While teenage mothers are only a small percentage of the welfare clients, their level of dependency on public assistance is often longer than older mothers. Data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services indicates that 50% of all families on the Minnesota Families Investment Program in December 1999 began with a birth to a teen. MOAPPP wanted to take a closer look at the reasons why teen mothers stay on public assistance longer and the types of barriers these parents experience with the system, as parents, and as teens.

Throughout 1999, MOAPPP met with representatives from teen service providers across the state, Minnesota county social service and public health providers, state officials, advocacy organizations, and teen parents themselves to answer some of these questions and identify solutions.

As a result of this process, three themes emerged. First, teen parents have a difficult time navigating the "systems" designed to provide a safety net or support. The types of "systemsí included not only MFIP but child care, school-based programs, child support and jobs and training programs. Both the complexity of the systems as well as the lack of self-advocacy skills and conflicting information contributes to their ability to navigate.

Teen parents and their children also face critical challenges with meeting basic needs and support. Access to affordable childcare, housing, and transportation are significant community issues. Perhaps most importantly, teens need support in relationships with parents, teachers, and peers as parents and in many cases, as victims of sexual and/or physical abuse.

Finally, the group concluded that a greater understanding of teen parents and an increased need for the coordination both within and between "systems" is necessary. Gathering comprehensive data on teen parents can be difficult between systems and often affects the consistency of services.

A number of policy and program recommendations were identified as part of the discussion process. Some of these recommendations are listed below:

System-Oriented Recommendations

Increase coordination across "systems";
Address any negative impact of rules and regulations regarding family income, school and work requirements for parents;
Examine and address incentives and barriers to serving teen parents in these systems;
Ensure a level of sufficient resources to support meeting the basic needs of teen parents;
Generate more accurate information for teen parents

Programs and Service Recommendations

Establish a continuum of school-based programs to support teen parents in communities across the state including school-linked case management services and school-based or linked child care;
Examine new incentives for post-secondary options and long-term commitments to teen parents for their future self-sufficiency;
Provide access to teen parents to meeting their basic needs: housing, transportation, and child care;
Identify additional ways to increase support systems in teen parentsí lives;
Provide access to mental health services for parent and child;
Assure that support services are specific to the needs of teen fathers or fathers of children with teen parents

If you are interested in learning more about these discussions and the groupís recommendations, please call us at 651-644-1447.

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