Second Chance Homes Find A White House Friend – Again

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First, the scourge was smallpox: In 1729, it brought women and their children to the nation's first orphanage and group home for single young mothers, in New Orleans. Then came Civil War: In 1863, it prompted President Abraham Lincoln to sign a federal charter for a home for orphans and young mothers a few blocks from the White House.

 

Don't forget sin: In the early 1900s, evangelical social workers created scores of homes around the country to redeem prostitutes and unwed mothers. 

Today, welfare reform and a plethora of social ills bring teen mothers to the nation's growing number of "second chance homes," prompting another Republican president to step in - this time, with cash.

President George Bush's Fiscal Year 2002 budget proposal for $33 million in grants for "maternity group homes" would mark the first federal funding dedicated to second chance homes. The move would let community nonprofits, including faith-based organizations, compete for a new pot of federal funds, and would significantly boost the grants overseen by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB).

About 306,630  babies were born to mothers 18 and under in 1999, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The D.C.-based Social Policy Action Network (SPAN) estimates the new program would benefit "thousands of teen mothers."

At the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, which is overseeing the opening of five new second chance homes over the next several months, "We're thrilled" by the president's support and the prospect of new federal money, says Project Coordinator Jodi Goldstein.

But at Catholic Charities USA - whose agencies run second chance homes throughout the country - Vice President Sharon Daly says, "I'm not jumping up and down with glee." She says the new funding still wouldn't make up for the cuts in federal Social Services Block Grants (SSBG), which have fallen from $2.8 billion in 1995 to $1.7 billon this year. Among other things, those funds have been used to open and operate this type of home, including those opening in Georgia.

 

Today, welfare reform and a plethora of social ills bring teen mothers to the nation's growing number of "second chance homes," prompting another Republican president to step in - this time, with cash.

 

In fact, belt-tightening in Washington, specifically on welfare reform, intensified the need for the federal government to step up with funds for such homes, which provide an array of social services including job training, parenting skills training and day care while the parents are in school. Since the law passed in 1996 there has been a "huge" increase in demand, says Katherine Chaiklin, program director for 22 Park Avenue, a seven-unit second chance home run by the YWCA of Greater Portland, Maine.

 

'Desperate Need'

Throughout the past century, various facilities (such as homeless shelters and some congregate care facilities) have occasionally accepted teenage mothers. But most have not been equipped to deal with babies for more than a short time, and don't provide the kind of social services that a young mother needs to complete education or job training while caring for a baby.

So it's not surprising that, as President Bill Clinton noted last year, nearly 80 percent of single teen mothers end up on welfare, and only one-third receive a high school diploma or GED.

Welfare reform tried to change that. The Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) law denies cash benefits to minor parents unless they live with relatives or in an adult-supervised setting. For those who cannot live with relatives, the law says, states "shall provide or assist the individual in locating a second-chance home, maternity home or other adult-supervised supportive living arrangement." But Congress provided no money to do so and no penalties for doing nothing.

The result: As of January of this year, only six states - Massachusetts, New Mexico, Texas, Rhode Island, Nevada and Georgia - had funded networks of second chance homes, according to a recent SPAN report. Perhaps most ambitious was Massachusetts, which established a network of 120 beds in 21 homes (at $5.3 million a year).

While most second chance homes are small apartment buildings or large group houses, Texas, with Bush as governor, took the unusual tack of going almost completely nonresidential. It spends $1.6 million a year to provide social services to hundreds of teen moms, most of whom live with relatives, while serving only about a dozen so far in residential facilities, says Thomas Chapmond, head of the state Division of Prevention and Early Intervention.

 

While most second chance homes are small apartment buildings or large group houses, Texas, with Bush as governor, took the unusual tack of going almost completely nonresidential.

 

Those government programs join scores of second chance homes around the country run mostly by private agencies, particularly faith-based organizations such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and the Salvation Army. The home that opened in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, for instance, was started by nuns and is now part of St. Ann's Child and Maternity Home, based in Hyattsville, Md. One of the biggest networks is the Child Welfare League of America's Florence Crittenton homes, which now number about 30.

These private and public agencies have pieced together funding from foundation grants, private donations and local, state and federal government sources such as the SSBG,  the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Title IV-E foster care reimbursements.

But the hodgepodge of sources and restrictions on the use of various funds left many youths unserved, as did a demand that exceeded supply, especially in the past few years. "We're just astounded at the numbers of young people who are in desperate need," says Chaiklin of 22 Park Avenue. (The agency is unusual in that it lets fathers live in its apartments as well, either with the mothers or only with their children.)

 

Bush's Baby

It's not that no one foresaw trouble. When Congress debated welfare reform, Sens. Ken Conrad (D-N.D.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) proposed spending $150 million to pay for second chance homes. Their amendment did not survive the final TANF bill. Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.) proposed $45 million in 1999, and President Bill Clinton proposed $25 million in the SSBG program for FY 2001.

After all those Democratic proposals died, along came a Republican president.

First, actually, came a book: "The Dream and the Nightmare," published eight years ago, which laid out the argument for what came to be known as "compassionate conservatisim." In 1998 it found its way into the hands of Gov. Bush, who later called it the most influential book he's ever read, after the Bible. Sociologist Myron Magnet's blast on liberal social policies as robbing the poor of a sense of responsibility for themselves earned him a two-day visit with the governor and his staff in Austin. Among the ideas Magnet laid out, according to a Washington Post story this past April: Instead of giving unwed mothers welfare, put them in homes run by churches or charities, surrounding them with a "value laden" community to help them get their lives back on track.

 

It's not surprising that, as President Bill Clinton noted last year, nearly 80 percent of single teen mothers end up on welfare, and only one-third receive a high school diploma or GED.

 

Bush soon launched his state's second chance home program. "This was his baby," Chapmond says. "I was told, whenever we met, that this was something he felt very strongly about."

It is yet another social policy concept that appeals to both right and left: While traditional liberals see second chance homes as a compassionate service and a wise investment in young people, many Republicans see it as a step toward helping young people take responsibility for their lives - complete their educations, learn job skills, get off welfare.

During the presidential campaign, Bush spoke several times of funding second chance homes, citing faith-based organizations as particularly suited to provide the services.

Agencies that already run second chance homes or transitional living programs for youth are expected to be big bidders for the $33 million. Many of those agencies already work with funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau, which awards grants for its runaway and homeless youth program ($46 million), transitional living for teens without family support ($21 million), and street outreach to high-risk teens ($15 million), says Acting FYSB Chief Curtis Porter.

If the new funding passes Congress, it will mark another federal intervention for second chance homes. In 1804, the Ursuline Sisters, the French order that started the group home in New Orleans when the area was ruled by France, feared that with the Louisiana Purchase the U.S. would confiscate land that the nuns used to make money to support their ministries. They wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, who assured them that the land "will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate."

 

For those who cannot live with relatives, the law says, states "shall provide or assist the individual in locating a second-chance home, maternity home or other adult-supervised supportive living arrangement."

 

Second chance homes have always counted on the kindness of presidents.