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  State Policy Documentation Project


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Summary of Policy Issues:
Reproductive Health Provisions and Teen Requirements

Table of Contents:
Background
Family Cap
Minor Teen Parent Living Arrangement
School/Training Participation Rules
Abstinence Education Program

This guide tracks the topics in the linked state-by-state and national reports regarding reproductive health provisions and teen requirements of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (cited subsequently as the Act or as PRWORA). Each topic begins with an overview of the law and then follows with brief descriptions of specific issues. Within each description, the terms used in the linked reports are highlighted in bold typeface. Related CLASP publications are noted and are also electronically linked.

We encourage SPDP users to print out this Guide to use as a resource while looking at the state-by-state and national reports.

Background

PRWORA includes a number of reproductive health provisions and teen requirements not included in prior law.

One part of the Act establishes the welfare block grant, Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF), which mandates that states deny federal TANF assistance to minor parents unless they fulfill a living arrangement rule and a school/training requirement. These Congressional prohibitions directed at minor parents were among the few restrictions regarding whom a state could assist. The restrictions apply to the use of federal funds; states which chose to may utilize state funds to assist minor parents.

A minor parent living arrangement rule had been part of the 1988 Family Support Act but states could decide whether or not to implement it. If the state opted for the rule, then the state had to adopt a specified list of individual exemptions to the requirement.  With respect to school/training requirements, the FSA had emphasized schooling for dropouts but had not focused on those in school. Numerous states, however, had secured waivers to implement so-called "Learnfare" programs under which states used sanctions, and sometimes bonuses, in an effort to prevent drop-out and retrieve those who had dropped out of school.  The The TANF debate included a proposal that would deny assistance when an infant was born "out of wedlock" to a minor mother and a proposal ("family cap") that would deny assistance when any infant was conceived while a mother of any age received TANF. Both proposals were not included in the final law. Proponents contended that the denial of TANF for such infants would have helped decrease births. While Congress did not mandate that states pursue either policy, states may establish them on their own and about 20 states have a family cap (most of which were established prior to 1996 under waivers). Opponents of the provisions argued that they could lead to the re-emergence of orphanages, increased abortions, and/or increased destitution for some number of young children.

In another part of the Act (Title IX, Sec. 912), Congress created an Abstinence Education Program, a new component of the Maternal Child Health Block Grant. This new funding stream is not limited to welfare recipients and it is not limited to young people. It is administered by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau . Prior to 1996, the federal Adolescent Family Life Program had provided funding for abstinence programs, the new abstinence education program legislates a set of themes to which a funded program must conform or, at least, not contradict. The new abstinence education program is designed to support programs that promote "abstinence unless married" education and preclude information and skills-building regarding how to use contraceptives.

Family Cap

Family Cap:  What Does TANF Require?

TANF is silent regarding the family cap. It contains no provision denying incremental benefits to additional children born to welfare recipients. However, under the TANF block grant framework, states may implement a family cap policy without federal approval. Federal approval was required under the old welfare law, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Most family cap policies were established under AFDC.

The terms "family cap" and "child exclusion" refer to restricted welfare benefits to children born to a recipient parent. Historically, cash grants have increased modestly with family size. States determine their own grant levels and the amount of the increment varies from 80 cents in Mississippi to $3.50 in California per day for an additional child. Under the typical family cap policy, however, if an additional child is conceived after a family begins to receive welfare, the cash grant does not increase for the family when the child is born. It is the timing of childbearing that is significant rather than the number of children in the family. Among the states that have adopted a family cap, policies and provisions vary greatly.

Linked CLASP publications: Family Cap

Excluded Children: Family Cap in a New Era chronicles states’ early experiences with and research findings regarding the family cap in the 23 states with some type of family cap policy.

Caps on Kids: Family Cap in the New Welfare Era is a fact sheet based on Excluded Children.

Open Questions: New Jersey’s Family Cap Evaluation provides highlights of research findings released in 1998.

Benefits to Family with Excluded Child

The Law

TANF is silent regarding Family Cap.

Issues

In those states with family cap policies, recipients no longer directly receive the full traditional cash grant increase for newborn children. Some states provide a reduced incremental benefit, which is set at some amount less than the level typically available for a child conceived while the family was not receiving welfare. Most states deny any cash increase for the new child. Some states provide incremental benefits payable to a third party or offer vouchers for use of the newborn child. Family cap policies do not affect benefits under non-TANF programs such as Medicaid, WIC and food stamps. "Capped" or "excluded" children otherwise eligible for these programs may receive such benefits.

Note that two states (Wisconsin and Idaho) are "flat grant" states, in which the size of the grant does not reflect family size generally. For example, in Wisconsin, grants for families vary by work status, not family size. While not necessarily established to impact family formation, such an effect might follow from a flat grant approach.

 Exemptions from the Family Cap

The Law

TANF is silent regarding Family Cap.

Issues

Most family cap states allow an initial 10-month grace period during which the family cap provision does not apply. Children born within 10 months of their family’s initial receipt of welfare are exempt from the cap provisions and thus are allowed to receive cash benefits. The reason for the 10-month "grace period" is to ensure that the family cap is applied to infants conceived while the parent is a welfare recipient. Without a 10-month grace period, the family cap could apply to infants conceived while the parent was not a recipient. In addition to the "grace period", states sometimes offer other exemptions. Some of the more common exemptions allow cash benefits for: first-born children of minor TANF parents; children conceived between spells of welfare assistance; children conceived as a result of rape or incest and children who are not living with a biological parent. Some states also exempt children conceived as a result of failed contraception or children who are born to victims of domestic violence (those who are eligible for the state’s family violence option).

Different Treatment of "Capped" Families

The Law

TANF is silent regarding Family Cap.

Issues

In addition to denying or reducing the traditional, incremental cash benefit, family cap policies sometimes treat "capped" families differently than other families. Sometimes the different treatment is harsher; sometimes it provides a more favorable treatment of other income to help compensate for the loss from the family cap. For example, in some states, a parent with a "capped" child is required to work when that child is younger, compared to a parent with a non-capped child. In some states capped families may retain more income from earnings without losing their eligibility for assistance. Some states permit "capped" families to retain more of the child support collected on behalf of the "capped" child. Since the timing of births is particularly critical in states with family cap policies, access to voluntary family planning services is essential. In some family cap states, welfare agencies refer families with a "capped" child for family planning services. [Some states provide family planning referrals to all TANF families, not just those with an "excluded" or "capped" child.]

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Minor Teen Parent Living Arrangement

Minor Teen Parent Living Arrangements:  What Does TANF Require?

A state is prohibited from spending federal TANF funds on assistance to an unmarried, minor, custodial parent unless she lives with a parent, legal guardian or other adult relative or is approved for an exception. The law recognizes limited exceptions to this rule including situations in which a parent, legal guardian, or other adult relative is not available or when such a placement could result in harm to the minor parent and/or her child. When residing with a parent, legal guardian or other adult relative is inappropriate, the state must "provide, or assist the individual in locating, a second chance home, maternity home, or other appropriate adult-supervised setting." Alternatively, the state may determine that a teen parent’s independent living arrangement is appropriate and that it is in the "best interest" of her child to make an exception to the general rule.

Linked CLASP Publications: Minor Parent Living Arrangement

Seeking Supervision: State Policy Choices in Implementing the TANF Minor Parent Living Arrangement Rule provides an overview of policy choices states have made in implementing the minor parent living arrangement provisions.

Seeking Safe Haven: Two States Approaches to the Minor Parent TANF Living Arrangement Rule also explores these policy choices and focuses on how two states have addressed the issues and how they continue to refine their choices. The two selected states, Illinois and Vermont, were chosen because they have specific policies that seek to protect minor mothers for whom a mandate to "live at home" is problematic.

Teen Parent Provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 also offers a summary of the living arrangement provisions and the issues raised by these provisions.

Rules Issued

The Law

The Act does not require states to issue rules and regulations on implementing the living arrangement provision, but states may choose to do so.

Issues

A state could remain silent about the living arrangement provision. Most state TANF agencies issue rules or guidance to help local welfare agencies understand state policy, including when county discretion is permitted. Other states have not issued rules but could provide state level guidance via practice.

Eligibility of Minors Not Living with Parents

The Law

In order to be eligible for federal TANF assistance, a minor parent and her child must live with a parent, guardian, or adult relative, unless the minor falls within one of the exceptions to the rule. States may approve the minor to live with adult supervision or they may approve her independent living arrangement. States are able to be more restrictive than federal law with respect to living arrangement rules and the exemptions.

Issues

States could adopt eligibility requirements for minor parents that are more restrictive than required by federal law. All reporting states regard minor parents eligible if they are living with an adult relative or guardian (note that Wisconsin allows a minor parent to share a TANF grant if she is part of a family that is legally responsible for her but she can never be eligible for a TANF grant otherwise). All but one state considers minor parents eligible if they are living with another supervisory adult and many have policies which consider them eligible if they are living independently in an approved arrangement.

Assessment

The Law

TANF anticipates a state determination about whether a minor parent falls within one of the exceptions to the living arrangement rule whenever she is not living with a parent, or relative, or guardian. If the minor falls within one of the exceptions, the law anticipates an assessment of whether the minor should be required to live in an alternative adult-supervised living arrangement (e.g. a "second chance home") or should be approved to live independently. The method of assessment is not specified in the statute, however. States are free to design their own policies and procedures.

 

Issues

The discretion given to states in assessing the appropriateness of a minor parent’s living arrangement leaves open many questions. For example, who conducts the assessment? While the state TANF agency is ultimately responsible, the law does not preclude assessment by another entity such as the child welfare agency or a nonprofit service provider. Child welfare agency involvement in assessments may benefit teens in cases involving abuse by a parent or relative because child welfare caseworkers are trained to assess risks and needs in such cases and can refer the teens to appropriate counseling and other resources. However, involving the state child welfare agency in assessment may be problematic if the agency is perceived by the minor parent as interested in removing her own child . Permitting community non-profits that focus on teens or on child welfare to conduce the assessment may improve the assessment process. These organizations may offer the expertise of child welfare agencies, but in a less intimidating manner. Training TANF staff to assess cases of abuse and neglect may also enhance the evaluation process. States have made varying decisions about which agencies or organizations conduct the assessment of minor parents’ living arrangements.

Aside from the question of who undertakes the assessments, states may establish in policy the criteria for assessing minor parents’ living arrangements. Policies could identify the circumstances in which adult supervision by non-relatives is appropriate. Do concerns about abuse or neglect justify an exemption or must there be an official report of abuse or neglect? If the current caretaker abuses alcohol or drugs, does that justify an exception to the living arrangement rule? What if no parent or guardian is willing to be responsible for the teen? Does that constitute an exception to the living arrangement rule? If the housing arrangements are inadequate or overcrowded, does the state deem an alternative arrangement appropriate? Some states select criteria to be applied statewide, others do not address the issue at the state level, leaving the decisions to local offices.

Regardless of who enumerates the assessment criteria, these criteria must be communicated to frontline caseworkers. If the staff is not trained regarding the criteria, caseworkers might turn away teen parents who fall within the exceptions established by the state.

Assistance in Locating Adult Supervision

The Law

TANF requires each state to "provide or assist in locating" alternative arrangements if the minor mother is unable to live with a parent, adult relative or legal guardian. However, nothing in the statute defines this mandate or describes the type of assistance required.

Issues

Some states have established a policy that defines what a case manager must provide minor parents who need assistance in finding alternative living arrangements. Some states attempt to meet this obligation by giving the teen a referral to the child welfare agency. Other states utilize specialized staff who identify, locate, and place the minor in a supervised slot and then provide case management to help maintain the placement. Some states interpret the assistance requirement as an obligation to provide minor parents with a list of possible "second chance" homes. Other states do not specify what assistance must be provided. In those states, local offices may merely provide minimal assistance; e.g. providing the teen parent with a local phone book.

Depending on state assessment procedures, there may be a gap in time between a minor parent’s application and her receipt of TANF. Since an acute crisis may have driven the minor to apply for TANF, it might be particularly helpful to provide her with state-funded cash assistance during the assessment period. Several states have elected to use state funds for this purpose.

 Approvable Adult-Supervised Settings

The Law

TANF provides that a minor parent who cannot live with a parent, adult relative, or guardian should be assisted by the state agency in locating "a second chance home, maternity home, or other appropriate adult-supervised supportive living arrangement," unless the minor is living in an appropriate situation. While the statute offers a definition of "second chance" home (a place that provides parenting skills, child development, family budgeting etc) it does not define what constitutes "other appropriate adult-supervised supportive living" arrangements.

Issues

Some states have issued formal state rules, which specify which types of adult supervision are allowed. Those states that do not have such rules may establish standards through practice or they may expect counties to establish appropriate policies. Alternatively, the state may consider the need for slots in adult supervised settings to be so great that any adult setting is deemed acceptable.

There are a number of possible adult supervised settings a state might deem appropriate. Some states accept placements in group homes or placements with adult non-relatives. Some states collaborate with the foster care system and accept placements with foster families or group homes run by the child welfare agency. Under the rubric of "other appropriate adult-supervised supportive living" arrangements, some states permit other arrangements. For example, a state might permit a minor parent to live independently, but under the supervision of a case manager.

 "Best Interest" Exemption

The Law

Under PRWORA, states have the flexibility to exempt a minor from living in the home of her parent, adult relative, guardian or in another adult-supervised setting, if such an exemption is in the "best interest" of her child. The TANF statute does not specify when "best interest" exemptions are appropriate. Instead, federal law leaves such decisions up to the state.

Issues

In the majority of states, policy defines when it is in the "best interest" of the minor to make an exception to the adult supervision rule. On the other hand, some states offer no state level guidance and leave it up to counties or individual caseworkers to determine when and if exemptions are appropriate.

States that have issued guidance on the criteria for granting a "best interest" exemption identify several different situations where exemptions are warranted. A minor teen mother could be trapped in a "catch-22" situation if she is told that she must live in an adult-supervised setting in order to receive TANF when there are no openings in such settings. Some states authorize "best interest" exemptions when no supervised living slots are available. Some minor mothers who live independently have developed networks of support that allow them and their children to progress and develop. The stability of such arrangements may be more important than mandating a move to a second-chance home miles away from this support network. The role of stability may also be important when living with a relative is only a temporary option. Hopping from one relative to another may be more disruptive than advantageous when the minor is living successfully on her own. Some states except such minors from the living arrangement rule. The federal TANF requirement regarding living arrangements applies only to those under age 18. A minor mother about to turn 18 might be better off if the living arrangement requirement were waived. For example, if a 17 year old mother applies for TANF in February, and will turn 18 in June, it may be nonsensical to mandate returning to a stormy (though not documented as abusive) home when it is clear that as soon as she turns 18 she will leave again. Some states exempt minor parents approaching their 18th birthdays.

The Act allows states to approve an independent living arrangement for a minor mother without adult supervision. However, in some states, state policy requires agency interaction with minor parents living independently. For example, some states require minors who live on their own to participate in specialized case management. Other states require minors to report regularly to the TANF or other agency. A handful of states have policies that preclude approval of a minor mother living independently.

Payments

The Law

The TANF statute limits federal assistance to 60 months. This time limit generally does not apply to minor children. However, when a minor parent TANF recipient is a head of household or is married to a head of household, the time clock ticks against her. Federal law does not determine "head of household" status. Instead, states appear to have flexibility in making those determinations. [Note that a ticking time clock is only one of the consequences of "head of household" status. For a discussion of other consequences see Teen Parent Provisions.]

Issues

Under AFDC, if a minor teen parent was the recipient of a cash grant for herself and her child she may have been automatically coded as a head of household. Some states continue to automatically consider a minor teen living in an adult-supervised setting a head of household. However, some states have re-examined their procedures for the designation of "head of household" in these settings because the adult supervisor may play a household role and because the designation triggers a time limit.

States also determine who receives the cash assistance for the minor parent. Some states choose to give cash grants directly to the teen, while others give it to the teen’s parent or another supervisory adult. Who receives the cash grant may significantly impact how the money is utilized. In some cases, the minor parent may not have the skills or experience to adequately manage the grant. On the other hand, she may be better able to manage the grant than a substance-abusing parent or guardian.

 State Data

The Law

There are no federal data reporting requirements regarding the living arrangements of TANF minor parents. States may elect to collect and report such data, however.

Issues

In order to implement the supervised living arrangement provisions effectively, states require basic data about the needs of the minor parents in their state. How many minor parents are there? How many of them need alternative living arrangements? Why do they need alternatives to living with family? Might services ameliorate the need for living apart? Without answers to these questions, states will be hard pressed to design and implement policies to address the needs of minor parents.

Some states collect information on the total number of minor parent recipients. Some states provide separate numbers for minor parents who are "nested" or "embedded" within adult households and for those minors who head households. Some states also collect the number of minor parents ineligible for TANF assistance due to living arrangement rules; the number of minor parents by living arrangement type; and/or the reasons minor parents are not living with a parent, guardian or adult. Some states attempt to estimate the need for adult supervised settings, including the number of minors seeking alternative living arrangements and the number of available slots in adult-supervised settings.

Some states routinely report collected data, while others do not. Data that is collected but not routinely reported may be available for special reports requested by a state administrator or by others. Sometimes the decision not to report the data reflects the fact that collecting the data is not perceived to be a burden while reporting it is viewed either as a low priority or too costly.

Funding

The Law

TANF funds may not be spent on minor parents unless they meet the living arrangement requirements. States may spend their own funds on minors who do not meet these requirements.

Federal law requires states to "provide, or assist the individual in locating, a second chance home, maternity home, or other appropriate adult-supervised setting . . .." No special funds are set aside to support the operation of such living arrangements, but a state could elect to use TANF monies to fund second chance homes. However, federal funds cannot be used to assist individuals for whom TANF assistance is prohibited (e.g. minor parents who do not participate in educational activities); nor can federal monies be used to construct buildings.

Issues

States could consider teen parents and their children to be particularly vulnerable to poor outcomes associated with poverty and conclude that providing state assistance to help these families find stability and security will prove cost beneficial in the long run. States could set up state-funded programs for teens denied TANF in order to provide such assistance. At this point, only one state has chosen to create a state-funded program for teens denied TANF. Final TANF regulations promulgated by HHS in April 1999 regarding separate state programs remove a "chill" on this construct created by the proposed regulations. They could also use TANF, other federal monies or state funds to fund second chance homes. A few states have chosen to support second chance homes with either federal or state funds.

Interagency Collaboration

The Law

TANF does not require that the state TANF agency collaborate with other human service agencies to provide living arrangement assistance to clients. However, agencies could combine their expertise and their financial resources to offer more seamless services for their constituents.

Issues

The living arrangement rule provides opportunities for TANF agencies to collaborate with other agencies. For example, the child welfare agency and the TANF agency could become involved only when abuse or neglect of the teen parent is documented. The TANF agency could provide cash assistance to support the infant of a minor mother who is in the foster care system. This income would augment the foster care payment on behalf of the minor mother. [When a minor teen is in the foster care system, she does not receive TANF for herself since, as a ward of the state, the foster care system is responsible for her support.]

On the other hand, interaction between the TANF and child welfare agencies could occur when there are no findings of abuse or neglect. For example, TANF could pay for a minor mother to live in a foster home without the teen becoming part of the foster care system. [For more detailed discussions of the factors to consider in establishing the policies of interagency collaboration see Seeking Safe Haven.]

Even when state or local policies call for collaboration between the TANF agency and the child welfare agency, the interaction may be hindered by logistical challenges. There may be inadequate placement options and thus, waiting lists. State or local policy may or may not allow placement of a minor mother and child in the same foster home. Where the policy does permit joint placement, there may be insufficient numbers of homes that accept both mother and child. States can adjust their policies and resources to alleviate many of these logistical barriers to effective collaboration.

In addition to an interface with the child welfare agency, some states engage the housing agency in discussions regarding the living arrangement policy. These collaborations could seek to identify existing or develop new housing alternatives for minor parents. They could also result in an agreement to give priority housing to minor parents who cannot live with their families.

Evaluation

The Law

Under prior federal law, The Family Support Act of 1988, states had the option of implementing a living arrangement requirement for minor parents which included a specific list of exemptions. Some states obtained federal waivers to change the list. States that obtained waivers were required to evaluate the outcomes of the provision. Under TANF, states are not required to evaluate their living arrangement requirements. States may choose to evaluate the impact of these provisions, however.

Issues

States may want to assess a broad range of issues. For example, what happens to those minor parents mandated to move back into an adult-supervised living arrangement? What happens to those minor parents allowed to live independently? What costs and benefits do ‘second chance’ homes incur? Does the living arrangement requirement reduce first and/or second births among teens? In some states, the living arrangement provision is being or will be evaluated.

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School/Training Participation Rules

School/Training Participation: What Does TANF Require?

The Family Support Act of 1988 required each state, to the extent that there were resources, to mandate participation in an education activity by non-exempt custodial parents under age 20 who had cot completed high school (or its equivalent). States had the option to excuse parents under age 18 but were required to exempt those under 16. In recent years, a number of states secured federal waivers to encompass not only those who had dropped out, but also those enrolled in school and to apply the requirement to younger teen parents as well as to those with younger children. TANF follows the lead of these stay-in-school waivers by expanding the reach of the education/training requirements. The law prohibits states from spending TANF funds on an unmarried, custodial minor parent caring for a child 12 weeks of age or older, unless the minor parent has completed high school (or its equivalent) or participates in appropriate educational activities (standard school or approved alternatives including training programs).

Linked CLASP Publication: School/Training Participation Rules

Teen Parent Provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 offers a summary of the school/training requirement provisions and the issues raised by these provisions.

Participation Required of Teen Parents

The Law

Under TANF , a state must require school or training for custodial, unmarried, minor parents who receive federal assistance. No similar requirement exists for married minor parents or teen parents who are not minors (those aged 18 or 19), but states may elect to impose such requirements as a condition of receiving benefits. States may also use state funds, in accordance with federal regulations, to assist those ineligible for federal TANF assistance.

Issues:

Some states apply the school/training requirements only to unmarried minor parents. Other states apply the requirements to both married and single teen parents under a certain age.

Participation Required of Students Who Are Not Parents

The Law

TANF mandates school or training only for minor parents. It does not apply to non-parents. However, states may elect to mandate school or training for any minors receiving assistance.

Issues

Some states apply school/training requirements to non-parent minors and they do so in varying degrees. Some states impose the requirement on all minors, including elementary school aged children. Others apply the requirements only to high school or middle school aged teens.

How is Participation Measured

The Law

TANF does not specify what it means to "participate" in "educational or training activities." However, the definition is critical because it determines whether a minor parent is eligible for TANF assistance. States have broad discretion in defining "participation."

Issues

Most states measure participation by attendance, while other states measure participation according to a performance standard, such as completion of current grade level or attainment of certain grades in class work. [Note that the state definitions for purposes of eligibility may or may not be the definitions the state follows for purposes of counting an individual towards the participation rate.]

Sanctions

The Law

TANF prohibits assistance to minor, unmarried parents who do not meet the school or training requirements. States decide how they want to enforce this provision. Some implement sanctions by reducing the family’s grant by the amount attributable to a non-compliant minor parent others by eliminating the family’s grant completely. Similarly, the state determines the level of sanctions imposed on e non-parent minors it requires to attend school or training

Issues

States establish their own sanction framework to enforce their school/training requirements. Some states have one set of sanctions for minor parents and another set for non-parents. Other states apply the same sanctions to both parents and non-parents. Some states apply the sanction until compliance is achieved, while other states impose the sanction for one month, or until compliance, whichever is longer. Some states offer payments directly to vendors for rent or utilities while the sanction is in effect. Some states escalate the sanction for subsequent infractions or continued noncompliance, increasing either the amount of the sanction, its duration or both.

The experiences of states that experimented with stay-in-school provisions prior to the 1996 Act suggest that students who fail to meet the stay-in-school requirements frequently come from families known to the child welfare system. Coordinating the services of the TANF and child welfare agencies might help avert sanctions and better assist children living in these vulnerable families. Some states have policies that require integrated case management between the TANF and child welfare agencies whenever a family might be subject to sanction.

 Bonuses

The Law

TANF prohibits federal assistance to minor parents who fail to participate in required education or training, but the law is silent about providing bonuses to those who do participate. States may design their assistance plans to provide additional cash assistance to those who comply with school/training rules.

Issues

Under stay-in-school waivers, some states adopted a "carrot and stick" approach; offering bonuses to those who complied with school requirements and imposing sanctions on those who did not. Some states have chosen to follow this approach and offer monetary bonuses for school enrollment, school attendance, grade level completion, GED completion or graduation.

Exemptions for Teen Parents

The Law

TANF does not permit exemptions to the stay-in-school requirements for receipt of federal assistance. Unmarried, minor parents caring for a child 12 weeks or older must participate in school or training to receive federal TANF assistance. However, a state may have decided that some minor parents should be exempt from school or training requirements. The state may implement such exemptions if it chooses to continue operating under a prior waiver that offered such exemptions. The state may also offer such exemptions if it uses state funds, rather than federal funds, to provide assistance to these minor parents. Further, the federal TANF restriction only applies to minor parents, it does not apply to older teen parents, a group that might be included in the state’s requirement and who might be offered exemptions.

Issues

In states that allow exemptions to the school/training requirements, the range of exemptions varies. Some states exempt those who are employed full-time or who are over a specified age. Some states exempt those caring for a disabled child or caring for a child under a certain age. Others exempt those who need an alternative placement that is not available or those who need child care or those for whom transportation is not available. Some states also exempt those who have been expelled from school. Still other states have general "good cause" provisions, which do not spell out specific exemptions but give discretion to local caseworkers. On the other hand, some states only "exempt" those for whom the federal law does not mandate school/training participation; those who are married or those caring for a child under 12 weeks of age.

Alternative Education for Minor Teen Parents

The Law

TANF requires participation in traditional school or alternative educational or training programs "approved by the state." States have broad discretion in determining if and when alternative placements will be permitted. They also have broad discretion in deciding what alternatives are appropriate for minor parents.

Issues

Some states have established eligibility criteria for alternative placements. These policies help define the circumstance under which and the persons for whom alternative placements are appropriate. Some states have also established a policy regarding assessment of the need for an alternative placement, policies that delineate when, how and by whom assessments should be made. Other states have not developed state level guidance about alternative placements; they have left such decisions up to local agencies or to individual caseworkers.

States have approved a variety of alternatives to traditional education. For example, some states consider participation in mentoring programs or youth employment training to meet the school/training mandate. Some states include other alternatives, such as vocational education.

Teen Parent Case Management

The Law

TANF does not mandate particular services for minor parents subject to school/training requirements.

Issues

Minor parents face a myriad of challenges in their daily lives. Case managers can help coordinate the variety of services that teenage parents need, including education, childcare, health care, and transportation. Some states have spent additional funds to add case management for teen parents.

The experiences of stay-in-school waiver programs suggest that dropouts are the most difficult population to engage in school/training activities. Therefore, some states utilize specialized case managers to "retrieve" dropouts and help them return to school or training.

Prioritizing Teen Parents for Services

The Law

TANF does not require states to provide services, such as child care or transportation, to help minor parents attend school or training. However, states may elect to provide such services.

Issues

Teen parents could be given priority for a set of services which if they did not receive they would find it difficult to comply with the school/training requirements. They might also have difficulty coordinating the services they need to fulfill their school/training requirements. Teen parents could be provided child care assistance, transportation assistance and case management on a priority basis within a TANF caseload.

State Education Agency Role

The Law

TANF does not designate a role for the state education agency in developing school/training requirements. States determine the nature of the interaction between the state TANF agency and the education agency.

Issues

Some states establish policies indicating the state education agency’s role in the design of the school/training requirement. Other states have no established policy thus leaving any action to local decision-makers.

The nature of the TANF-education agency interaction varies across the states. Some states design their stay-in-school rules with little interaction between the TANF agency and the education agency. The education agency is only involved in logistical issues (e.g. attendance tracking and reporting). However, other states involve educators in the design of the TANF program, seeking their input to determine what "participation" should be measured and/or how to assess students for alternative placements. Some states ask the education agency to help design procedures for reaching dropouts or design new alternative placements for those for whom traditional education is inappropriate.

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Abstinence Education Program

Abstinence Education: What does the Act Require?

The Act makes $50 million in federal funds available each year (FY 1998-2002) for abstinence education that is administered through the Maternal and Child Health block grant. States are not required to participate in the federally funded program and one state elected not to participate in fiscal year 1998. The new $250 million in federal funds plus the required state match totals nearly $0.5 billion over the five year period.

The Act lists eight components of an "abstinence education" program, including a requirement that the program have "as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity." The program must also teach "abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school age children" and "the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity." Federal guidance from the Maternal Child Health Bureau establishes that, while all 8 points need not receive equal emphasis, nothing in the program can be inconsistent with the 8 points. Thus, the new "abstinence education" program is more restrictive than many existing abstinence education programs which emphasize the value of abstinence, but also provide information about contraception. [To distinguish between these very different approaches, the new, narrow approach is often called "abstinence-only" or "abstinence-unless-married," while the approach that combines an abstinence message with reproductive health and contraceptive information is often called "abstinence-plus" or "abstinence-based" education.] In addition to supporting an abstinence education program, funds may be used for "mentoring, counseling, and adult supervision" that promotes abstinence.

Linked CLASP Publications: Abstinence Education

Abstinence-Unless-Married Education is a fact sheet that highlights the latest research, public opinion polls, federal summaries of state activity, and the SPDP findings.

Abstinence Education: Room for Interpretation reviews the statute and identifies areas where states have flexibility in program design.

State Match

The Law

States that choose to participate in the abstinence education program are required to match every $4 of federal funds with $3 of state funds. The state match may be met through any combination of state funds, local funds, or in-kind contributions.

Issues

Some states have chosen to meet the match requirement by allocating new state funds for abstinence education. Other states meet the match with existing state funds used for abstinence-only school education programs, media campaigns or other state-funded programs. Some states rely upon in-kind support to meet their match requirements. For example, a state might count airtime donated by broadcasters or time spent by members of a state abstinence education advisory committee as part of the state’s contribution to the abstinence education program. Some states shift the match responsibility to the local level requiring the local support to meet the requisite match.

State Grant Process

The Law

While the Act provides 8 components in the abstinence education program, states still have flexibility in program design. One area where states have discretion is in the grant-making process.

Issues

In setting up the grants process, some states created an advisory group of state officials and/or citizens to design the program. States sometimes issue an RFP for local programs (or devolve this process to the county). Sometimes a state will issue an RFP for statewide activities while still others make agreements with the state education or health agency to undertake aspects of the grants program. Regardless of who makes the selection, some states develop scales to weigh competing proposals, while other states make the decisions on an ad hoc basis.

Funded Activities

The Law

Aside from establishing the 8 tenets of abstinence education, the Act does not specify particular activities that are ineligible for funding. The Maternal Child Health Bureau has circulated earlier guidance that prohibited the use of grant monies under the Adolescent Family Life Act to teach or promote religion. In addition, states may choose to further restrict the use of grant funds, declining to fund activities or programs that would be permissible under federal law.

Issues

Some state policies identify activities that are ineligible for abstinence education funding. States could decline to fund programs that utilize certain educational curricula or that offer specific services. States could also restrict funding to programs targeting only specific age groups.

Funded Groups

The Law

The Act does not restrict the types of entities that may be awarded funds. Any organization that offers an abstinence education program fulfilling the statute’s provision is eligible for funding. However, states may prohibit funding to certain types of organizations.

Issues

Some states have decided not to fund organizations that provide "abstinence plus" education or other reproductive health information through separately funded programs. Some states elect not to provide funding to religious organizations.

Monitoring/Evaluation

The Law

The Act does not require states to evaluate their abstinence education programs to determine whether these programs have influenced the reported measures. On the other hand, states are permitted to evaluate the programs. A separate law established some funding for a national evaluation which is currently underway.

Issues

Existing research has not established that abstinence-unless-married education is effective in reducing sexual activity or out-of-wedlock birth rates. Some states have elected to conduct an evaluation of activities funded by the abstinence education block grant in order to determine which ones achieve established goals.

If a state elects to evaluate its abstinence education program, it can do so in a number of ways. Some states undertake the evaluation at the state level, engaging the state health agency, an academic institution or an independent contractor to conduct the evaluation. Other states mandate that individual grantees evaluate their projects.

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This page last updated September 02, 2023

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