Caroline Co. to pay teenagers not to get pregnant

September 19, 1990|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent

DENTON -- Caroline County will pay teen-age girls a dollar a day beginning next week not to get pregnant, the county's health officer said yesterday.

The program, modeled after a Planned Parenthood effort in Denver and proposed five months ago, is the first of its kind on the Eastern Shore. A similar private program, financed by the Abell Foundation, is under way in Baltimore.

Dr. John A. Grant, the health officer, told the Caroline County Commission yesterday that 87 girls in the county of 26,770 had babies over the past four years, and an untold number of others' pregnancies ended in miscarriage or abortion. One in three becomes pregnant again within two years, he said.

"It is not an inner-city black phenomenon. It's a white rural phenomenon as well and seems to be spread throughout this county," he said.

He downplayed the $1 payments -- expected to cost the county at least $5,000 a year -- and called them a way to buy the girls' attention and draw them into counseling.

As a result, he said, the program's name has been changed from Dollar a Day to YES (Youth Expecting Success). The cash will be doled out at weekly "YES I Can!" meetings at which counselors will try to persuade the girls to say, in effect, "No, I won't" to pregnancy.

But Dr. Grant said he hoped group membership would replace the payments over time as the real incentive to attend meetings and avoid pregnancy.

Half a dozen teen-age mothers will begin to meet next week, he said. Any county girl 17 or under who has been pregnant is eligible.

The program, which has attracted no organized opposition, will receive staff help and a $6,000 grant for salaries from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy.

"When we first heard about the idea, we said, 'Oh, no, it hasn't come to that -- paying people not to get pregnant,' " Dr. Grant said.

But he said he now views the dollar-a-day formula as a "classic behavior modification process."

"The cost of one teen-age pregnancy is much greater than the cost of this program," he said.

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