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DSS panel urges free condoms


The Carroll County Department of Social Services Advisory Board yesterday recommended distributing free condoms at the department's offices in the Barrel House in Westminster.

Board members suggested that DSS Director M. Alexander Jones should prepare a formal proposal for state approval.

The proposal will be submitted to the state Department of Human Resources, which would have final say and would pay for the program if it is approved.

"I have struggled with it," said Mr. Jones, who brought the condom issue before the board yesterday. "It gives a message that I don't want to give," that the proposal could be construed as encouraging extra-marital sex.

But "there are a lot of people who don't share our values," Mr. Jones said, who need "as much help as we can give them. We see the results of [unwanted pregnancies] . . . We see the kids coming in battered and blue because they've been beaten."

The advisory board recommended distributing free condoms from machines in four men's and women's restrooms and in the department's waiting room.

Information on abstinence and other means of preventing unwanted pregnancies also would be made available to DSS visitors, along with information on how to use condoms, Mr. Jones said.

He said the condom machines would cost about $160 each, but said he did not yet know what other costs would be, such as the cost of information racks.

The proposal is part of a statewide effort to help people receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Reaction from the Carroll County Commissioners yesterday was mixed.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said, "I don't want to see them [condoms] in a machine in a waiting room" because the lack of privacy might discourage people and because it might embarrass older clients.

However, she said, "I see no problem" with making condoms available in the restrooms.

County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy Jr. said, "Somehow, I can't see these condoms as being a real viable part of the solution to what everybody realizes is a terrible problem."

He said a better solution might be to pay the target population for not having children.

"That sounds radical and socialist," Mr. Lippy said, "but I'm not the first one to think of this idea."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he "would have to resist" the free condom plan.

"Right up front, it's promoting premarital sex," he said. "There's a moral issue here, too, and a principle."

Mr. Jones said that Carroll County residents make up only eight-tenths of a percent of the total population that is receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits in Maryland.

In Carroll County, he said, 1.3 percent of the population -- 610 adults and 1,102 children -- receive AFDC benefits. Carroll County families receiving AFDC average 1.8 children, he said.

Free condoms already are available at the Carroll County Health Department.

"We saw it was a very important thing to do from the public health perspective," said Larry Leitch, deputy health officer. "We really haven't had any problems with the program."

He said the health department used to set out a large number of condoms at once, but after people walked off with the whole bunch -- 200 to 300 condoms at a time -- the department began putting out only "a small handful" at a time.

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