New Chance, a national research and demonstration program that operated between 1989 and 1992, was developed in a policy context marked by intense concern about teenage childbearing. That concern reflected the public's distress about three developments: the dramatic increase in the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing over the past three decades, the long-term welfare costs incurred by young, poor women who become mothers, and the negative life prospects faced by their children. Little was known, however, about what kinds of programs and policies could help young mothers on welfare attain economic independence and could foster their children's development as well.
The New Chance Demonstration was a rare and important opportunity to test the value of comprehensive services in assisting a disadvantaged group of families headed by young mothers who had first given birth as teenagers, who had dropped out of high school, and who were receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The program, which operated in 16 locations (or "sites") in 10 states across the country, sought to help the young mothers acquire educational and vocational credentials and skills so that they could secure jobs offering opportunities for advancement and could thereby reduce, and eventually eliminate, their use of welfare. It also sought to motivate and assist participants in postponing additional childbearing and to help them become better parents. Finally, New Chance was explicitly "two-generational" in its approach, seeking to enhance the cognitive abilities, health, and socioemotional well-being of enrollees' children. The program was, for the most part, voluntary; that is, young women were generally not required to attend in order to receive public assistance. Instead, most joined it because they wanted to earn their General Educational Development (GED, or high school equivalency) certificates and the program offered free child care to enable them to participate.
To evaluate the program's effectiveness, young women who applied and were determined to be eligible for New Chance were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group, whose members could enroll in the program, or the control group, whose members could not join New Chance but could receive other services available in their communities. To ascertain both short- and longer-term program effects, comparable information was collected from each member of both groups through in-home survey interviews conducted approximately 1½ and 3½ years after the individual had been randomly assigned. The measured average differences between the two groups' outcomes over time (such as their differences in rates of GED attainment, employment, or subsequent childbearing) and between the outcomes for their children are the observed results (or impacts) of New Chance. This, the final report on the New Chance program and its impacts, examines the trajectories of 2,079 young mothers who responded to the 3½-year survey. (author introduction)