A gubernatorial task force seeking to reduce the pregnancy rate among Maryland teen-agers recommended yesterday that unwed teen-aged parents be required to live with their own parents to receive welfare payments unless "the physical or emotional security" of the minor would be compromised.
The report, which noted that Maryland has the fourth highest percentage in the nation of births by unwed teen-agers, also recommended that state officials develop a "character education" program in the schools and a program of unspecified incentives to encourage teen-agers to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.
The recommendations, which state Department of Human Resources Secretary Ruth Massinga called "almost revolutionary," were among those formulated by a 17-member task force appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes last year. The group was commissioned in response to figures showing that although the births to teens is declining, the percentage of the state's babies borne by teen-agers remains high.
The percentage of births to Maryland teens was 13.7 percent in 1983, down from 15.3 percent in 1979. But task force Chairman John B. Slaughter, chancellor of the University of Maryland at College Park, noted that the decline comes about in part because there are fewer teen-agers in the population overall and the birth rate among older women has increased.
"We should not be misled into thinking that we have solved the problem. There are more and more instances of very young children having babies, and that is a significant concern," he said.
Task force members say state action is necessary because of the enormous social problems being caused by early, particularly out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The report notes that teen-aged parents are more likely to have health problems and more likely to lack prenatal care and thus to produce low birth-weight infants with higher rates of mortality, congenital defects, disease or retardation. Teen-aged parents also are highly likely to become dependent on welfare assistance, to disrupt or end their educations, and to face limited employment opportunities as a result.
"The almost revolutionary recommendation is that the responsibility for the minor mother and the minor child should be maintained by the parent of the teen-ager . There's no place that I know of where that is currently the case," said Massinga. "The point here is to try to say to all of us that families are responsible and it is not so easy for grandparents or fathers to walk away."
John Kyle, director of the governor's Office of Children and Youth, said he hoped that some of the recommendations would be incorporated into the governor's legislative package for the 1986 General Assembly session, although he could not specify which ones. "We intend this report to be a call to action that will help us work on this problem over time." Kyle said that one of the recommendations is for the creation of a Teen Pregnancy Council to provide leadership on the problem.
Among the many statistics highlighted by the 64-page document is that the birth rate of Maryland teen-agers, at 14 percent, ranked 23rd among all states and the District of Columbia in 1982. But 68 percent of Maryland girls 19 and younger who gave birth did so out of wedlock, compared with 52 percent nationally. That ranks Maryland behind the District, New Jersey and New York.
The report noted that number of births to nonwhite youths under 17 was consistently higher than to whites, although the pattern reverses at ages 18 and 20. Among the report's recommendations was that the governor establish councils to explore job opportunities for youngsters.