Dollars for Dads, Crumbs for Moms


In the complicated, troubled world of children having children, the fathers usually end up being the forgotten ones.

But not in Anne Arundel County, at least not this year. At the urging of county Director of Social Services Ed Bloom, County Executive Robert R. Neall has proposed a boost in the contribution for a program for young fathers by nearly 120 percent, from $43,400 during the current fiscal year to $96,120 for next year.

Young Fathers helps disadvantaged boys and men between the ages of 16 and 25 -- the kind you see hanging on the street corners, maybe even selling drugs -- find jobs so they can be responsible for their children and become decent members of society. The program has operated for a few years, but excellent marks from Mr. Bloom and impressive statistics have combined to make Mr. Neall extremely high on it right now. The extra money he allocated will allow the Annapolis-based program to expand to Meade Village, where the need for more responsible, young fathers is great.

I'm glad to see the county supporting programs such as this, which, in the long run, prevent crime and save taxpayers' money. Young Fathers has taken 47 men off the street and seen 33 get jobs, one go back to high school, another earn his general equivalency diploma and two go to college. Seventy-five percent of the men now pay child support, Mr. Bloom reports.

These figures are amazing, considering the kinds of lives these young fathers led when they were recruited into the program. Still, given the county's generosity toward young fathers, one can't help but ask: What about young mothers?

Shouldn't the county be targeting resources at young women as well as young men, especially since, in the overwhelming majority of cases, they are the primary care-givers?

The best program for teen-aged mothers in Anne Arundel is the (( Teen Infant Program at Meade High. It not only teaches girls how to be mothers but provides in-school, licensed day care so they can take care of their babies while completing their education. The program, begun in 1990, has been so successful that the argument for expanding it to other schools constructs itself.

The success of the Teen Infant Program has been just as striking as the Young Fathers'. Of 49 girls who joined the program between 1990 and 1993, 41 got their diplomas and one earned her general equivalency diploma. Eleven went to college. Eight enrolled in other post-high school training. Eleven went to work and two joined the military. Statistics from the current fiscal year show similar results. Of 23 girls enrolled, only two have quit without joining some other educational or family-oriented support program.

Yet not only is there no money in the budget to expand the Teen Infant center to other locations, there is no county contribution for Meade for fiscal 1995.

The program costs $114,000 a year, $71,000 of which comes from Department of Social Services child care vouchers. The YWCA, which runs the program, is asking the United Way for $25,000 and hoping it can persuade the county to come up with $18,000 -- an insignificant amount compared to what has been given to the Young Fathers program. If those sources do not pan out, however, it is unclear how the program will survive.

"We have had a struggle to fund this program every year," says Barbara Hale, assistant executive director of the YWCA.

Last year, Anne Arundel supplied $25,000 through a health department grant. But Health Officer Fran Phillips said the YWCA came in with its request much too late to be included in her budget. Moreover, while the county believes this is a "valuable program" and will continue to provide in-kind contributions such as a full-time health nurse at Meade, it wants the YWCA to find other funding sources.

The county has suggested that the YWCA ask the Board of Education to assume responsibility, but, says Mrs. Hale, "The board has said repeatedly that it doesn't want to get into the child care business."

The YWCA is hoping to persuade the County Council (which can add money only to the education budget) to encourage the executive to appropriate money for the Teen Infant Program. That seems unlikely. Funds are scarce, and the county has made it clear it has to cut back on grants to charitable and community programs.

But if it can come up with so much for young fathers, why can't it do something for young mothers?

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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