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Problems in Programs for Unwed Fathers Chronicled

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Even with the offer of free help in finding jobs and becoming a better parent, programs to help young, unwed fathers have had problems recruiting participants, according to a report released last week.

The report documents the initial findings in an ongoing study of a pilot project for young, unmarried fathers, and was issued by the organization administering the project, Public/Private Ventures, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit research organization.

Project leaders had hoped to enroll 50 unmarried fathers ages 16 to 25 at each of six program sites: Annapolis, Md.; Cleveland; Fresno, Calif.; Philadelphia; Racine, Wis.; and St. Petersburg, Fla.

By the end of the first year, however, only the Philadelphia site had met that goal.

The report attributes the shortfall to the varying degree to which the program sites were "plugged into'' federal employment and training programs funded under the Job Training Partnership Act, as well as the degree to which each site had an established reputation within the community.

"You've got to gain [the fathers'] trust and convince them that this really is a program that's going to help them, that you really have something concrete to offer, and that you're on their side,'' said Nigel Vann, a program officer at P.P.V.

Mr. Vann also speculated that young fathers may be less willing than their female counterparts to admit that they need assistance.

Since the report was written, five of the six sites have met their enrollment objectives, Mr. Vann said.

Involvement With Children

Among its other findings, the report notes that the information provided by the fathers "does not support the view that young fathers are responsible for multiple births, that their relationships with their children's mothers are casual, and that they are 'absent' from the lives of their children.''

Rather, of a sample of 159 fathers participating in the project, 63 percent reported having only one child, and of the 37 percent who had more than one child, about half had had the children with the same mother.

About half of the young men reported that they had been in a "serious romance'' with the mother when she became pregnant, and one-third said they were still involved in the relationship. Only 3 percent said they knew the mother "only a little.''

While only 23 percent of the fathers said they lived in the same household with their child and the child's mother, 39 percent said that, during the past month, they had seen their children every day, and 70 percent had seen them at least once a week.

About three-quarters of the participants were African-American, and more than half lived in households with annual incomes of less than $10,000. Forty-three percent had less than an 11th-grade education, about one-quarter had earned high school diplomas, and 11 percent had earned General Educational Development certificates.

Thirty percent reported that they had been ordered to make child-support payments, with the average payment being $118 a month. However, 71 percent of this group said they were behind in making their payments.

Over all, according to the report, most of the fathers participating in the program were "doing too poorly economically to support their children on a regular basis, but provide sporadic support and are eager for better jobs and for contact with their children.''

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