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Pilot program will aid teen mothers in Franklin County

May 09, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Hoping to lower the risk of child abuse and neglect among teen mothers, Family Health Services is piloting a program that will give the young moms a break.

Through a state grant, the agency will start the program with seven teenagers in its Crossings program this month.

The women will be assigned times throughout the week to leave their child in the care of the children's center at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Chambersburg while they run errands, attend school or work, said Ann Spottswood, education coordinator for Family Health Service, which is a regional nonprofit agency.

Heather Thomas, 18, hopes to use the time to finish her high school classes and look for new housing.

"I will be able to do a lot more. I can look for a place to live, or if I have to go to the doctor" it will be easier to have someone look after 2-year-old Kyler, said Thomas, of Chambersburg.

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The program also will help Kyler socially. While he likes being around other kids, he doesn't often get the chance, said his father, Paul Beck, 22, of Fayetteville.

"We know teens need this," Spottswood said. "Literature and documents support the increased risk of child abuse and neglect when the parent is under age 20. Our goal is to reduce stress with the teen and give her the opportunity to take care of personal things knowing their child is in a safe, secure and structured environment."

The mothers in the respite program will have to take the responsibility for filling out the paperwork for the day care and keeping the commitment, said Heidi Pisle, director of St. Paul Children's Center.

"It also helps parents become more accepted in the community," she said.

The program is funded with a grant from the Children's Trust Fund through the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. It is a three-year $150,000 grant, which the agency had to match using donations and its United Way funding.

The grant also allowed the agency to add a second home visitor to its Crossings program.

They are working with 30 teens on everything from parenting and social skills to family dynamics and family planning, said home visitor Carol Hawbaker. Mothers can stay in the program until they turn 20.

Prior to adding the second home visitor, support was not there for women before delivery, and they often faced as much as a six-month wait, Hawbaker said.

Since the Crossings program began in 1995, Franklin County's teen birth rate has fluctuated between 165 and 205 births annually, Spottswood said.

Crossings is offered to any teenage parent in Franklin County with the goal of improving healthy relationships between teen parents and their children, educating teen mothers to increase the time interval between birth and developing an external support system.

Family Health Services intends to have the respite program up and running later this month, which is also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.

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