Teen parents and TAFDC

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

If you are under age 20, you have a right to file your own application for TAFDC benefits without your parents, even if you live with them. But there are some special TAFDC rules for teen parents.

  • If you are under age 20 and pregnant or a parent, you must be in school full-time or have graduated from school. 
  • If you are under age 18 years, you must also meet special living arrangement rules.
How do the school attendance rules work?

Unless you have already graduated, if you are under 20 you must be in 

  • high school, 
  • middle school,
  • elementary school or in a full-time GED (high school equivalency) program of at least 20 hours per week. If your GED program is less than 20 hours a week, you may be asked to do community service or other training as well. 

This rule does not apply if you are within 60 days of turning age 20 or while your child is less than 3 months old. 

If you need help getting into school, ask your DTA worker. The worker is supposed to help you find a program.

You can get free child care. Your parents or other relatives do not have to care for your baby unless you want them to. If appropriate child care is not available, you are exempt from the school requirement. 

You can also get transportation assistance for some of the cost of getting to school.


You cannot be sanctioned (lose benefits) if you are not in school because you don’t have child care or because of domestic or teen dating violence.

Are there good reasons to be absent from school?

Yes. Good cause for missing school includes:

  • Not having transportation,
  • Not having child care,
  • Bad weather,
  • A health problem, or
  • A crisis you need to attend to. 

If you do not have good cause, you will first lose your part of TAFDC grant for 30 days. After 30 days, you will lose the entire TAFDC grant. Your SNAP food benefits and MassHealth should continue.

How does the living arrangement rule work if I am under age 18?

If you are under age 18 and not married, you must:

  • Live with one or both of your parents, 
  • Live with another relative (related to you or your baby) who is age 20 or over,
  • Live with a legal guardian,
  • Be a "graduate of a DCF independent living program," or
  • Be 17 years old and meet special "waiver" rules (see below).

Otherwise you may be asked to live in a teen living program if one is available. 

If you are under 18 and married, you must be living with your spouse to be exempt.


18- and 19-year-old teens (and teens within 60 days of turning age 18) do not need to live with parents, relatives or in group homes. But you do need to meet the school rules above.

Who are the relatives you can live with?

Teens still meet the living arrangement rules if living with an

  • aunt or uncle,
  • grandparent,
  • older sibling, or
  • other relative who is age 20 or older.

You can also live with a former stepparent, like your father's ex-wife or the paternal grandparents of your child.

This does not include living with your child's father if you are married.

Your relatives do not have to get legal guardianship. If you live with an unrelated adult, that person does need to be a legal guardian.


The income of relatives or legal guardians does not count in calculating your TAFDC grant.

What if I can't live with my parents?

If you are under 18 and can't live with your mother or father, tell DTA. A teen specialist under contract with DCF will contact you. They will look at whether you can continue with your parents, in a teen living program, or on your own. You should not be forced to live at home in any of the following situations:

  • You fear abuse, 
  • Your parent refuses to support you, 
  • There is substance abuse in the home,
  • The home has code violations, or 
  • There are any other "extraordinary circumstances.”

The teen specialist’s job is to find out why you cannot live at home and make a recommendation. Be sure to tell them all the reasons. You can also ask your school guidance counselor or other professionals who know you to call or write the teen specialist. 

If the teen specialist agrees you cannot go home, DTA may find you a teen living program to go to. DTA may also advise you of the waiver rules for 17-year-olds.

What is the waiver rule?

Teens who are 17 years old and cannot live with their parents can request a special "waiver" to live on their own if they: 

  • Are in a good living situation,
  • Are in school full-time in good standing,
  • Have stable child care, and 
  • Are participating in a teen parenting program.


If you are within 60 days of turning age 18, you do not need a waiver and are exempt from the rule.

How is the income of a teen’s parents counted?

If you are under age 18 and live at home, your parents' income above 200% of the poverty level counts in deciding how much TAFDC you and your baby get. If your parents refuse to tell DTA their income, you may be denied TAFDC. You can still apply for SNAP Food Benefits and MassHealth.


Your parent’s income does not count once you turn 18. The income of non-parent relatives you live with does not count, no matter how old you are. 

How do I challenge a denial of TAFDC benefits?

If your TAFDC is being cut, you can appeal.

You have a right to bring in any new evidence about why you cannot live at home. If DTA says you missed too much school, bring to the hearing any information that explains why you missed classes.

You have a right to

  • see your TAFDC case record, including school attendance records and/or reports from the DSS contracted teen specialist,
  • make copies of any documents in your file,
  • ask questions of the DTA worker or the teen specialist at the hearing, and
  • bring a friend or advocate to help you.


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