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Studies Show Value of Services To Wean Teenagers Off of Welfare

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Teenage mothers receiving welfare are more apt to pursue education or jobs if they get training and support services, but relatively few are getting such help, two new studies suggest.

A 16-state survey released last month by the General Accounting Office found that only 24 percent of some 144,000 teenage mothers on welfare had ever enrolled in the federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training program, which was enacted as part of the 1988 federal welfare-reform law. The program encourages states to provide and welfare recipients to participate in education and training leading toward employment.

Because states must commit their own resources to draw federal aid under JOBS, they do not have to serve every eligible welfare recipient. Still, the law encourages states to meet participation-rate targets.

Although JOBS does not specifically focus on teenage parents, it directs states to spend 55 percent of their funds on hard-to-serve groups such as people under age 24 who have no work experience and have not completed high school. It also requires states, to the extent resources permit, to provide child care, transportation, and other sevices to JOBS participants.

In some cases, the G.A.O. found that teenage mothers who live with parents who receive welfare--as opposed to heading a household and drawing welfare separately--were not being served under JOBS. It also found up to one in three teenage parents had been wrongly exempted from JOBS.

While welfare clients age 20 and older who have children under 3 are exempt from participating in JOBS, teenage parents who have not finished high school are not.

The report also notes that up to 35 percent of the teenage parents who had enrolled in JOBS failed to complete their education, "often due to second pregnancies or personal and family problems.''

Teenage parents were more apt to complete secondary school, the study found, when states offered such services as alternative-education programs, life-skills and parenting classes, and subsidized child care.

H.H.S. Study Promising

The second study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, found that the school-attendance and employment rates of teenage mothers on welfare improved significantly when they were required to participate in model programs offering training, case management, and other support services.

The study tracked 6,000 first-time welfare recipients in Chicago and in Newark and Camden, N.J., from late 1987 to mid-1991.

Among those required to participate in the programs set up under the study, nearly 79 percent were in school, job training, or employed, compared with 66 percent of those who received standard welfare services.

The improvements began almost immediately and persisted even after two years.

Ellen Kisker, a senior researcher at Mathematica, said the demonstration projects tried hard to identify and serve all eligible teenage parents and probably offered a "richer'' array of services, from employment workshops to helping mothers find child care, than many JOBS programs provide.

Copies of the report, "Building Self-Sufficiency Among Welfare-Dependent Teenage Parents: Lessons From the Teenage Parent Demonstration,'' are available for $10.50 each from Jan Watterworth, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., P.O. Box 2393, Princeton, N.J. 08543-2393. A list of other reports on the ongoing study is also available.

Single copies of the G.A.O. report, "Welfare to Work: States Move Unevenly to Serve Teen Parents in Jobs,'' HRD-93-74, are available for free from the G.A.O., P.O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, Md. 20844-6015; (202) 512-6000.

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