Teen Mother Program Flops

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Science  18 Jul 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5324, pp. 321
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5324.321b

A major program aimed at helping teen mothers has failed to make them any more self-sufficient or less likely to have more babies than a control group, according to a report issued this month.

The program, New Chance, was designed as a rigorous test of how single mothers who were also high school dropouts would fare when provided with education, job training, counseling, health services, and child care over a period of 18 months. Conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. (MDRC) in New York City, the program ran at 16 sites, following 1553 participants and 769 controls.

The results were disappointing. After 3 1/2 years, girls in New Chance had gotten more high school certificates, but this did not translate into jobs, or even better reading scores. In both groups, about 75% had become pregnant again, and 75% were on welfare. And study participants actually showed more stress and depression than controls.

Experts say the results are consistent with other research. But they continue to differ on why most interventions have so little effect. MDRC's Robert Granger says that New Chance participation was so erratic—on average, the young mothers got only 3 months of services—that girls didn't get a proper “dose.” He thinks it might have worked better if there had been an earlier emphasis on getting jobs. Yale psychologist Victoria Seitz says other research suggests that teens do better with more nurturing than they were getting in this program. But to Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., the study is “another nail in the coffin” of the “nurturing” school of welfare reform and shows programs may be more effective if they are mandatory.

The next wave of welfare research may help show who's right. A new federal welfare act passed last year encourages states to experiment with sanctions to induce mothers on welfare to get jobs and not have more babies.

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