Teen Parent Units (TPUs) aim to improve access to schooling and to promote positive educational outcomes for teenagers who are pregnant or parents. They also provide wrap-around support, early childhood education for children, and links with health and social services.
Existing evidence and ERO reports suggest that students value the services and support they receive through the units, and that most TPUs provide supports that would be expected to lead to better educational, social, and health outcomes.
To date there has been no quantitative study that establishes whether TPUs are effective in improving educational outcomes. This new study aimed to fill that gap.
The study estimates that access to a TPU has large positive impacts on teen mothers’ school enrolment and attainment.
Study results suggest that access to a TPU in the local area had large positive impacts on teenage mothers’ school enrolment rates and school qualifications.
The baseline school enrolment rate after birth for the teenage mothers studied was 35 percent. Those who had access to a TPU within 20 km were estimated to be 4 percentage points more likely to enrol in a school after giving birth (statistically significant at the 5 percent level). Those who had good access to a TPU by virtue of being enrolled at conception in a school that hosted a TPU were an additional 11 percentage points more likely to enrol (significant at the 1 percent level) and were estimated to be more likely to attain NCEA Level 1 and 2 qualifications post-birth (significant at the 1 and 5 percent levels respectively).
The study estimates that for teen mothers without qualifications who enrolled in school post-birth, enrolling in a school with a TPU increased the probability of attaining NCEA Level 1 by 22 percentage points from 37 to 59 percent (significant at the 5 percent level).
Robustness tests provided no evidence that the positive results could be explained by schools that host TPUs being associated with better educational outcomes for young women overall, or by ready access to a TPU altering teenage birth patterns.
Impact evaluations using quasi-experimental methods and based on administrative data have a number of limitations. They do not allow all of the outcomes sought by programmes like TPUs to be measured, and errors in data linkage and data limitations inevitably result in some degree of imprecision in the estimation of true impacts. Nevertheless such studies can make a useful contribution, especially when randomised trials are not feasible or are unable to be justified on ethical grounds.
The study points to opportunities for future study to examine the impact of TPUs on longer-term outcomes, including mothers’ post-school educational participation and earnings, and on children’s health and early childhood education participation.
An important topic for future study is whether the impact of TPUs has altered with changes introduced in late 2012 which made enrolment in education, training or work-based learning compulsory for young parents aged 16 to 18 receiving social welfare benefits, once their children reach 6 or 12 months of age (6 months if a place at a TPU is available).