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Teen-Age Fathers Caring, Involved, Study Finds

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The stereotypic view of teen-age fathers as irresponsible and unconcerned about their partners or their children has been countered by the findings of a two-year pilot project on teen parenting funded by the Ford Foundation and a coalition of local community philanthropies in eight U.S. cities.

The Teen Father Collaboration represents, according to the Ford Foundation, the first national attempt to extend to teen-age fathers the counseling and other social services often available to teen-age mothers.

The teen-father programs are supported by community foundations in Bridgeport, Conn., Louisville, Ky., Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., St. Paul, Minn., and San Francisco.

Data collected from the programs have demonstrated, said Leslie Gottlieb, public-information officer for the Ford Foundation, that most teen-age fathers want to be involved in the lives of their children.

Of the 400 young fathers who have participated in the programs, she said, 82 percent report daily contact with their children and nearly 75 percent say their relationship with the child's mother has lasted more than two years.

Needs Ignored

"Teen fathers should no longer be considered hit-and-run victimizers of the mothers," said Lorenzo Mar4tinez, a program administrator at New York City's Bank Street College of Education, which serves as a national coordinating agency for the project.

But despite teen fathers' need for assistance in a variety of areas, Mr. Martinez said, social-service agencies have largely ignored them.

According to the report, most teen fathers are unemployed, and 75 percent do not attend school.

All eight of the pilot teen-father programs and seven similar teen-mother programs, also initiated by Ford and the Council on Foundations, are ongoing.

Because of the lack of models for serving teen-age fathers, each program in the Teen Father Collaboration has been designed to meet the needs of the specific population it serves. But all of the teen-parent projects attempt to help the participants complete their education, develop job skills, learn basic parenting methods, and avoid further unplanned pregnancies.

One-on-One Counseling

The Portland, Ore., project works with young fathers recruited through a local hospital's outreach program. John N. Lass, the project's coordinator, helps youths look for jobs and counsels them on a variety of topics ranging from "anger management" to the use of contraceptives.

Mr. Lass said the young fathers are receptive to one-on-one counseling. "These are kids who generally hated school, so I don't lecture," he said. "I use role-playing.8It's a hands-on approach."

Participants in the Portland program generally live with their partners, although fewer than a third are married, according to Mr. Lass. He has found that most young parents have dropped out of school before the pregnancy--many as early as the 8th grade.

"One boy was an unemployed dropout who had abused his partner and was a drug user," he said. But today, after a year in counseling, the young man has a job, is off drugs, and is no longer abusive.

American Indians' Program

The Minneapolis program is tailored for American Indian youths. According to Cheryl M.B. Lucas, coordinator of the project, teen-age parenting is not viewed as negatively in the American Indian milieu, where the life expectancy is from 20 to 30 years less than the national average. Teen-age fathers in the project, she said, were often themselves the children of teen parents.

Ms. Lucas said that young mothers usually had recruited their partners for the teen-father program. Some, she said, were referred by a social-service agency.

But she has had more unusual referrals--one, a 14-year-old father directed to the program by a 16-year-old who had learned to care for his own 1-year-old son there.

For more information on the teen- fathers program, write Jolle H. Sander at the Bank Street College of Education, 610 West 112 St., New York, N.Y. 10025.

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