Meeting the Needs of Youth Under TANF
The National Collaboration for Youth believes that:
- Assurance of child well being is an appropriate and much needed new overarching goal and purpose for TANF. The definition and indicators of child well being should include all young people under age 18 and developmentally correct indicators, such as those represented by positive youth development including ensuring youth have caring adults in their lives, access to services that promote healthy lifestyles , including those designed to promote physical and mental health , social and vocational skills, and opportunities to serve. Adolescence is an age period that is distinct from both childhood and adulthood; thus the well being of youth should be measured distinctly from children.
- Proven effective youth development strategies (as recently confirmed in a 2002 report, “Community Programs to Promote Youth Development”, by the Board on Children, Youth, and Families at the National Research Council) should be employed to fulfill youth well being under TANF. Youth fare better when they have access to ongoing relationships with caring adults; safe places with structured activities; access to services that promote healthy lifestyles; including those designed to promote physical and mental health; marketable skills and competencies, and opportunities for community service and civic participation.
- A prudent course of action to take in addressing the needs of young people involved in TANF is an investment in community-based programs, which engage them in positive youth development programs and activities, especially in the non-school hours. Additionally, these programs will be of no benefit to youth that must care for their younger siblings because their family can not access childcare.
- It is essential that TANF take a research-based approach to encouraging youth to delay the onset of sexual activity and helping those already having sex to do so responsibly.
- Young parents need assistance in obtaining and maintaining housing. Young parents should not be denied access to TANF assistance due to their inability to secure or maintain an adult-supervised living arrangement. The federal government should provide states, communities, and nonprofit organizations sufficient resources to enable them to provide suitable living arrangements for young parents.
- Young parents need adequate supports and services to attend or re-enroll in school and to participate in education or training. Teen parents should not be denied access to TANF assistance if these supports or services are not available. The federal government must provide sufficient resources to enable states to provide educational and training supports and services to young parents.
- Older youth (18-and 19- year olds) that are considered "adults" should be allowed to pursue education under TANF without the 60-month time limit clock ticking.
- Additional research is necessary to fully understand how young parents in the TANF program are being affected by their participation.
PUBLIC POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
- Include child well being as a purpose of TANF, with developmentally appropriate indicators of well being for both children and youth specified.
- Provide states with explicit authority to use TANF funds for positive youth development programs and activities that promote youth well being and prevent young people's future dependency on public cash assistance.
- Redirect TANF funds set-aside for the Illegitimacy Reduction Bonus to instead provide incentives to states to expand positive youth development programs and activities.
- Repeal the mandate that states deny TANF assistance to young parents who are unable to live with a parent, guardian, or adult relative, or secure an adult-supervised supportive living arrangement. Require instead that states arrange for adult-supervised supportive living arrangements (not merely "assist in locating" such arrangement, as is permitted in current law) for young parents unable to live with a parent, guardian, or adult relative.
- Provide explicit authority for a state to provide assistance during an initial period designed to help minor teen parents come into compliance with school and living arrangement provisions in order to receive TANF benefits. Specify that states may provide assistance for up to 180 days to assist the teen parent to come into compliance with the requirements.
- Add emergency shelters, transitional and permanent housing facilities serving homeless youth, such as Runaway and Homeless Youth Act-funded basic centers and transitional living programs, to the statutory list of suggested "appropriate, adult-supervised supportive living arrangements."
- Increase appropriations through TANF, Social Services Block Grant, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, and other federal housing, homeless assistance, and community development programs to enable states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to provide housing opportunities for young parents.
- Increase appropriations through ESEA, Homeless Education Act, Workforce Investment Act, Youth Opportunity Grants, Job Corps and other federal education and workforce programs to enable states to provide education and training supports for young parents.
- Expand permissible uses of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds authorized under TANF to include comprehensive sexuality education, which includes both abstinence and contraception.
- Stop the accrual of months on TANF assistance for older teen parents participating in education and training.
- Remove the 30 percent cap on the number of people in high school or vocational education that a state can count as engaged in a work activity.
- Require TANF plans to describe how states will count and track the number of young parents eligible for and enrolled in TANF and how states will work with schools, job training centers, child care providers, housing agencies and homeless assistance providers to meet young people's housing and support services.
- Provide funds to conduct additional research on the impact of welfare-to-work programs on adolescents in TANF families and young parents.