Enough for any teen-aged girl who...

LIFE IS DIFFICULT

July 31, 1996

LIFE IS DIFFICULT enough for any teen-aged girl who crosses the threshold into motherhood. Diapers, late-night feedings and, perhaps, worries about colic replace the carefree existence of innocent youth. Indeed, a girl and her partner ought to take responsibility for creating a child.

But while teen-aged mothers must relinquish many pleasures and privileges to care for their babies, they should not have to surrender a high school education and hope for a future.

In Howard County, young mothers have been able to continue working toward their high school diplomas through a state-funded teen parenting program. The prototype, duplicated in other jurisdictions, has enabled these girls to attend classes while their children were being watched in day care at the Howard School of Technology.

For a while it looked like this important program would fall victim this fall to state cuts. Fortunately, Howard County public school officials decided to retain its teen-parenting initiative despite the fact that the state did not provide full funding for the 1996-97 school year. But an uphill climb remains. Schools officials still must find $35,000 to keep the program in operation through June.

The teen parenting program deserves community support. In its 11 years, it has proved a sound investment in young mothers, giving them a chance at having a future that is productive and independent. Since it started in 1985, more than 360 girls have participated, with 96 percent receiving high school diplomas and 70 percent of them holding full-time jobs. Only one-fifth of them are receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children.

With welfare reform a top priority in Washington, a program that keeps young mothers from depending on public assistance is one of the best deals going. Those who advocate government cutback of services must realize that the challenge of funding important efforts then shifts to private organizations and individuals.

Said Howard County school board member Karen Campbell, "We've got to be able to find 1,000 people with $35" to keep the program viable.

This program addresses a classic "pay me now or pay me later" dilemma. It is time for those 1,000 people (or more) to step forward.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

An education for teen-aged moms; Private sector should step forward to save worthwhile program.

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