The Annie E. Casey Foundation reminded policymakers and child advocates of the barriers young families face — and potential solutions that can help them thrive — with the release of Opening Doors for Young Parents, the latest KIDS COUNT® policy report. The fifty-state report spotlights a population of more than 6 million, including 2.9 million young adult parents, ages 18 to 24, and 3.4 million children nationwide living with young parents. With limited access to opportunities to advance their education and find a family-sustaining job, young parents face barriers to supporting their children and fulfilling their own potential.
The Foundation emphasized that without adequate support and resources, young parents and their children are at risk of being left behind permanently. “If we don’t support young people when they become parents, we are cheating two generations out of having a positive future,” warned Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy. “We can help young adult parents develop the skills they need to raise their children, contribute to their communities and drive our national economy forward.”
Roughly 70 percent of children with young adult parents live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More than half of young parents (55 percent) are people of color, facing challenges exacerbated by discrimination and systemic inequities, and their children stand to suffer the most.
“By helping young adult parents navigate the difficult transitions to work and higher education alongside parenthood, we can change the odds for them and their children,” says Rosa Maria Castañeda, senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The right set of policies and services for young parents can help ensure they, their children, and our country all succeed together.”
The report underscores the following trends as well as areas of concern:
- Education can make a significant difference in earning power for families; single mothers with associate degrees earn an average of $152,927 more over their lifetimes than high school graduates, and $296,044 more with bachelor’s degrees. Young parents, however, are less likely to be in school than nonparents their age and more likely to be working full time.
- Family-sustaining jobs increasingly require post-secondary education and specialized skills, and young parents who have limited resources, education and time are unable to stay competitive in this workforce landscape.
- Inflexible programs and lack of access to supportive services remain barriers to opportunity and family stability for young parents. Just 5 percent of young parents receive childcare subsidies, even though 63 percent require child care, and 41 percent of young parents attributed jobless spells to challenges with child care.
- Young parents are more susceptible to psychological distress, yet many young parents have limited or no access to mental health services.
Fathers have a critical influence on children’s development, whether or not they live together, but they are often left out of programs to support young families
Oklahoma has the largest percentage of young adult parents: 18 percent of Oklahomans ages 18 to 24 are parents, followed by Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico (each with 16 percent).
In Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi and Wisconsin, at least three quarters of the children of young adult parents live in families with incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Vermont has the lowest percentage (53 percent); no state is below 50 percent.
For the past ten years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has invested in building strategies that support parents and children together — a two-generation approach to human development. Common-sense programs and policies that already exist, combined with some fresh thinking about additional approaches, can address the most common obstacles young parents face.
To equip young adult parents for success, the Foundation offers the following recommendations:
- Help young parents pursue education and employment: States should boost workforce and education programs with supportive services tailored to the barriers young parents face to help them compete in a rapidly changing labor market. These should aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities with a focus on disinvested communities.
- Help young parents achieve financial stability: Governments should make sure benefit programs do not exclude young parents: Congress should lower the eligibility for the childless worker’s Earned Income Tax Credit to 21, and states should expand state EITC to all workers ages 18 to 25. States should ensure young parents and children have health insurance, including screening for maternal depression.
- Help young parents with child development and healthy parenting: States should prioritize evidence-based approaches such as home visits; make family planning and reproductive care accessible to reduce repeat unplanned pregnancies; increase access to infant and toddler care that is both high-quality and affordable; and prioritize care that equips young parents to understand children’s developmental stages.
- Keep families together and promote success for young parents involved in systems: States should leverage new federal provisions to extend additional support until age 26 for parents in foster care, and they should avoid separating babies from children solely because the new young parent is in foster care. Agencies should consider targeted matched-savings programs such as Opportunity Passport™ to help system-involved young parents save for basic assets and needs.
Opening Doors for Young Parents was made available September 25 at 12:01 a.m. EDT. You can read the full report there.