The rate of teen pregnancy increased in 2006 for the first time in 10 years, up 3 percent, according to a January 26, 2010 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and public education firm. "After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling," says Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute senior public policy associate.
Many of these teens do not know where to turn for help. There are state and federal benefits for teenage parents, including assistance with food, education and health care.
In its January 2010 report, the Guttmacher Institute notes that 7 percent of teen mothers receive either late or no prenatal care, and babies born to teens are more likely to be low-birth weight than are those born to women in their 20s and 30s.
There is some good news, however. Teen mothers are more likely now to complete high school or obtain a GED than in the past, the institute reports. However, teen mothers are still less likely than women who delay childbearing to go on to college.
Teenage mothers are eligible for assistance through the funds made available by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Bureau. It gives states wide flexibility in running their programs, so benefits vary from state to state.
For example, in Massachusetts, the program is called Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC). The government program gives cash and medical assistance to needy families with dependent children and provides assistance to women in the last four months of their pregnancy. Teen mothers must meet school attendance requirements to be eligible for TAFDC.
One federal program that provides food and health assistance is the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program. WIC aids families by providing money for food from WIC-authorized vendors, as well as education about nutrition. WIC will help participants, including teenage mothers, find health care and other community services. WIC participants must be pregnant women or new mothers with infants or children under age 5; there are income guidelines as well.
Many states have specific programs targeting pregnant or parenting teens. For example, in Ohio, a program called Learning, Earning, and Parenting, or LEAP, uses financial incentives for pregnant and parenting teens on federal assistance to stay in school and meet school attendance requirements. If they have dropped out, LEAP requires they either return to school or enter a program to prepare for the high school equivalency test and earn their General Educational Development (GED).
The Teen Parent Services Program, or TPS, run by the Illinois Department of Human Services, helps pregnant teens navigate the system to get their education and possibly career training, connect with community resources and find health care for parent and child. Program workers also help teens with the TANF application process. Any teen in TPS is expected to earn either a high school diploma or get a GED.
In California, the Teen Parent Connections program, which is run by the County of Sonoma Health Services Public Health Division, provides long-term comprehensive case management services to pregnant and parenting teens. The teenagers are connected to medical providers, schools, WIC and other services.
Teenage mothers who are working or going to school are often eligible for child care assistance. However, again, this varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy (MATP) notes that teenage mothers in that state must receive authorization from their local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCRR) for this aid. Agency officials will help explain the different child care options and help place children in programs.