Henrietta Henry never did find the suburban paradise she sought 10 years ago when she fled the District of Columbia. Despite the jobs she found, the high school diploma she earned, and the small, semi-detached house she bought in Riverdale, she knows her family is becoming the sort that makes social workers cringe.

They are in danger of joining the flotsam of the low-income, inner-Beltway Prince George's neighborhoods. Two of Henry's three daughters, Tawanda Scott, 18, and Lucille Scott, 19, are single mothers who never finished high school. They live at home, unable to afford the child care that would allow them to hold full-time jobs or continue their education. The youngest, Artice, is 6.

The father of Tawanda's 15-month-old girl, LaToya, has disappeared. The father of Lalita, Lucille's 21-month-old baby, is in Prince George's County Detention Center. Henry, 36, has been unable to work, or to care for her two granddaughters, because of injuries to both knees suffered in an automobile accident last year.

Lucille works part time in a department store and Tawanda is working toward her high school Graduate Equivalency Diploma. But both are strapped by the high cost of baby-sitting, and the more hours they work, the more they must pay for child care.

"They've got the right ideas, they just need a start," Henry said. But when their efforts bring no result, she added, "it's kind of hard to tell my children to keep on working."

Henry's biggest fear is that her daughters, like Lalita's father, will turn to crime. She said it is ironic that if they went to jail they could get job training and a high school education, while their babies would be cared for by the state.

It is to people such as the Scott sisters that "Project Independence," a new job program announced last week by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, offers a glimmer of hope. Under a pilot program, 50 of the estimated 930 single parents in Prince George's who are in situations similar to that of the Scotts will receive 18 months of intensive counseling and job training financed through the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA). They will be offered housing, food stamps, child care, transportation and other services. And when they complete training, they will be aided in finding private-sector jobs.

Good luck seems constantly to have avoided Lucille and Tawanda Scott, and they said they are skeptical that Project Independence will produce results. But when they received the application forms two weeks ago, they filled them out and returned them the same day. They have not learned whether they have been accepted for the program.

Although most of the services are already available, they are uncoordinated and inadequate, say officals of the county Department of Social Services. Spokeswoman Kitty Hueper calls the project "the fulfillment of our fondest dreams." People like the Scott sisters, without training and education, are probably more in need than any other welfare recipients in the county, says Hueper.

Lucille Scott, who earns $3.45 an hour, says, "By the time I pay the baby-sitter seven dollars a day I have nothing left over." Two weeks ago, for instance, she received $45 and spent $25 on baby-sitting.

Tawanda Scott is studying for a high school diploma with the 70001 Work and Learning Center, a privately run national program sponsored in Prince George's by the Private Industry Council. She pays $24 a week for baby-sitting out of the $211 a month she receives from the Aid For Families with Dependent Children welfare program.

Emma Banks, coordinator of day care for the Department of Social Services, said about 110 parents are on waiting lists for subsidized child care.

Lucille left school in the 10th grade when she learned she was pregnant. She had just turned 17. After living for a short time with Lalita's father, Kenneth Jenkins, she returned home.

"Kenny did his best; he stuck with me all the way. He was there at the hospital when I was delivering," said Lucille. That's more than most men will do, she says, and she is grateful. Henry is very fond of Jenkins and calls him her godson.

A few months after Lalita was born, Lucille took a GED course but failed the final exam. She then took a Red Cross course and qualified as a nurse's assistant, but says wherever she applied for jobs she was told she needed a year's experience.

A brief job as a sales clerk ended after the Christmas rush. After a long job search, Lucille found the part-time job she now holds, at Montgomery Ward in the Capital Plaza in Landover, in March.

Tawanda dropped out of 10th grade too when she learned she was pregnant. She has not talked to the baby's father since LaToya was born, and she has not tried to find him. "I'm going to have to do it on my own sooner or later," she says she told herself at the time, "so I might as well do it now."

The worst part of her misfortune, Tawanda says, is that "people treat you like you're dumb.

"Friends, people's parents, say you aren't anything--just sitting there on welfare," she added. "But I don't want to sit there, and wait all my life. . . . I know I'm going to get ahead."

Despite the unfortunate twists their lives have taken, the Scott sisters remain reasonably cheerful.

But Henrietta Henry is still worried.

"Everybody makes mistakes," she said. "Like having a baby. But I don't know what to tell them to do at this point."

Henry said she "moved up" from being a welfare mother, and that, "I just never wanted this for my children. But the money (from crime) is fast and the money is real," she said.

Lucille and Tawanda say they are tempted and they know their mother is fearful.

"She's really worried," Tawanda says of her mother. "Often she's heard us saying we'd sell this or sell that (drugs). That's where the money is. The only reason I don't do that is because I might get caught."

Henry, 36, divorced from the father of Lucille and Tawanda, remarried last December. Henry said her new husband, a post office employe in the District of Columbia, has contributed towards baby-sitting costs in the past but could not afford to keep doing so. Henry has been receiving vocational training from the Maryland Department of Education and expects to be able to start work soon, as her knees heal.

Before Henry moved her family to the suburbs in 1973, she lived in various housing projects in the District where, she says, she was a "kept woman" living with her "sugar daddy." In 1971 she was put on two years' probation for forging checks.

And then, Henry says, she straightened out. She moved to the suburbs and held a variety of jobs, and eventually earned enough money to make a down payment on her Riverdale house. Three years ago she earned a GED under a now-defunct CETA program at Prince George's Community College. Until her automobile accident last year, she was taking a Spanish course at Catholic University.

Soon afterwards she was riffed from her clerical job at a District of Columbia venereal disease clinic. Her counselor at the state Department of Education vocational rehabilitation center in Landover says Henry has a good chance of finding a job once she brushes up her typing skills. "She's a bright individual," said the counselor, Mary Fountain.

Henry has refused offers of help in getting disability benefits, although she is probably eligible, according to her counselor. Henry says she isn't worried about herself but about her daughters.

Lalita's father, Kenneth Jenkins, 20, said in an interview in the Prince George's jail that he fears Lucille and Tawanda will turn to crime as he did. As a ninth-grade dropout working part time in a Montgomery Mall department store, he said, he was unable to earn enough money to support Lucille and Lalita.

"I tried to get into the CETA program," he said. "I didn't pass the test so they turned me down. I tried to get into the Navy and failed the test. . . . I tried to get into the Army and failed that test. I didn't want to see Lucille and my daughter out there on the street. I wanted to take care of my own responsibility."

Depressed because he couldn't do so, he tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pain relief tablets a year and a half ago, he said, and spent two weeks in Prince George's General Hospital. Lucille visited him every day.

His life of crime was brief and unglamorous. It lasted six months and ended last summer when he was arrested, Jenkins said. He borrowed a gun and held up stores such as Dart Drugs, A&P and Safeway. Occasionally, he said, he would hold up drug dealers on the street. All told, he said, he netted about $6,000.

Jenkins has pleaded guilty to three counts of armed robbery and still faces an armed robbery charge in Montgomery County. He will be sentenced later this month and his lawyer has told him he could spend as long as 20 years in prison.

"It was worth it at the time," Jenkins said. "When I was out there, my daughter--any time she needed something, she got it.

"That was my first child and I love her. One time she had no Pampers. Lucille called me. I didn't want to tell her I had no money for Pampers. So I'd go out and get some money.

"I'd really like to see them (Lucille and Tawanda) make it," he added. "Just because I didn't, I don't want to see everybody fall with me. I don't know when I'll be out. When I get out, even if it's 20 years, I will make it. This is not my sort of life."