One of the nation’s best-funded programs for disadvantaged teen mothers has failed to improve their chances of becoming self-sufficient, according to a multiyear, rigorous study to be released today.
The study found that teens enrolled in the program, called New Chance, were no more likely to find a job, leave welfare or avoid having another child than young mothers who had not received its intensive services.
Three and a half years after they entered the program, about 75 percent of the young women were receiving public assistance, 28 percent were working and three quarters had become pregnant with an additional child.
The findings offer more evidence that improving the lives of the nation’s most disadvantaged families is extraordinarily difficult, and even the most intensive programs have little effect in counteracting the powerful forces at work in poor communities.
The research also has important implications for the new welfare system, since half of the 4 million adults on welfare had their first children as teens. The new welfare law requires that recipients stay on the rolls no longer than five years in their lifetime, so figuring out how to change behavior is critical to its success.
The study results, released by the Manpower Research and Demonstration Corp., a New York-based research organization that also designed the program, were disappointing because New Chance is considered among the most elaborate and comprehensive of its kind, operating in 12 cities around the country. The program spent about $9,000 per mother, showering them with education and training, child care, parenting classes, health care and counseling.
Overall, the program has enrolled roughly 4,500 participants over the past eight years and spent about $3 million, most of it public funding from state and local governments.
The program did increase the likelihood that the teens would receive a high school equivalency degree, but it did not increase their earnings compared to other teen mothers, nor did the program help their children become any more academically prepared for preschool.
Some social policy specialists said the study is likely to contribute to increasing support for sanctions in social programs. Providing services is not enough, these policy makers argue, unless the programs also punish participants - by cutting welfare benefits, for example - if teen mothers don’t stay in school, have their children immunized or meet other expectations.
“This will be another nail in the coffin of the nurturing, supportive approach to welfare recipients,” said Douglas Besharov, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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