In April 1983, the Bank Street College of Education in New York -- which is funded by the Ford Foundation -- launched the Teen Father Collaboration project at eight sites across the country. It was set up as a research and demonstration effort to find ways of helping young men do a better job of supporting their children and helping raise them. Young men -- who have been virtually ignored in the problem of teen-age pregnancy -- were taught everything from how to change a diaper to how to get a job.
The demonstration part of the project lasted two years and 395 fathers became involved, often finding out about the programs through their partners who were already being helped by some social agency or through friends. The participants ranged in age from 15 to 19, and most were 17 or 18. According to a report on the project that came out last September, only 35 percent said they worked and more than half of these worked only part time. About 75 percent were not in any kind of educational program, and nearly 60 percent had dropped out of school between the ninth and 11th grades. The young men came from a variety of backgrounds; a quarter were white, another quarter were Hispanic, 37.7 percent were black, and the remainder were Asian and American Indian.
These young men went into the programs voluntarily so they may well have been more highly motivated than others to try and improve their lives and those of their children. About three quarters said that their relationships with the young mothers had lasted an average of two years, and about 10 percent said they were married. "These findings," according to the report, "offset the commonly held belief that teen-age fathers are hit-and-run victimizers of young women. Quite to the contrary, in this population, teen-age fathers were most involved and committed to the young women."
By the end of the first year of the program, officials at the eight sites found that they had more young men wanting help than they could handle. The programs were run in San Francisco; Bridgeport, Conn.; Louisville; Minneapolis; St. Paul, Minn.; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia. Most operated out of existing social agencies, but the program in San Francisco operated out of a school and in Philadelphia, out of the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital. In most cases, according to the report, young fathers said they preferred having male counselors and staff.
"All agencies, from the beginning, did focus on vocational skills training and job placement services, since the ability to make financial contributions to their children was often uppermost in the minds of the young men they served," the report found. "Some agencies provided job skills training on the premises, coaching their clients in resume writing, assessing want ads, role playing interviews with potential employers, and educating them about the etiquette of seeking jobs. Other agencies concentrated on building linkages with established vocational training programs in their communities so they would accept young fathers as trainees and try to place them in jobs.
"Each of the agencies also offered parenting skills classes . . . to foster closeness between the young fathers and their children, and to promote group support among young men in the throes of early parenthood. These classes taught the rudiments of child care: feeding, bathing, diapering and playing with young children. Most, however, went beyond these activities and dealt with the stages of early childhood development, conveying a sense of what young children could and could not do, and what they needed from their fathers. This helped eliminate punitive responses by young fathers who often felt frustrated because they expected too much from their babies."
Nearly half of the 155 young men who had dropped out of high school returned to some form of educational program. And 148 of them improved their employment situation: 56 got part-time jobs and 92 got full-time jobs. "According to counselors, the preponderance of young men who got jobs contributed financially to their children -- this in addition to the in-kind contributions (diapers and other supplies) they were also making," the report found.
And it concluded that while these programs and the young men faced formidable and new obstacles, the improvements they made in education and employment "are most encouraging. They may well point to an increasingly productive life for these young men and a far more responsible role as fathers." All of the programs have secured community funding and are still going on. They surely sound like something other communities ought to try.