SACRAMENTO — State Workfare officials, hoping to keep young women from becoming dependent on welfare, are launching a drive to persuade teen-age mothers to stay in school while the state pays the cost of caring for their children.
The goal of the campaign is to recruit high school-age welfare mothers to volunteer for the state's new Workfare program long before their children reach the age of 6, the mandatory time of enrollment. Early participation in Workfare, the Deukmejian Administration hopes, will give these teen-agers the education they need to find jobs, avoid a second teen-age pregnancy and escape a lifetime on welfare.
"Teen-age pregnancy is providing us with almost an unlimited supply of new welfare recipients," said Carl Williams, who heads the Workfare program. "They should be learning how to read and write, not learning how to change diapers."
Amy Loomis, director of a teen counseling center in San Francisco, agreed: "The best contraceptive is a good report card," she said. "Doing well in school and seeing a future for themselves is a motivation for not having a second child too early."
The push to get mothers as young as 13 back into the classroom illustrates the changing nature of California's welfare system, which until recently has done little more than maintain families at a subsistence level.
Under Workfare, which is designed to move people off aid and into paying jobs, able-bodied recipients with children age 6 and over are required to go to school, receive job training or perform public service jobs in exchange for their welfare checks. The state pays for child-care services and transportation for all participants in the program, formally known as Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN).
Organizations to Help
"Now (with Workfare) we have a way of arranging child care, which is the main barrier keeping these mothers from going to school," said Williams, a deputy director of the Department of Social Services.
To reach mothers under the age of 19 who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children and need child care assistance, state officials have enlisted the help of organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Teen-Age Parenting and Pregnancy, which provide counseling and other services for teen-age mothers.
Loomis, who heads the government-funded Teen-Age Parenting and Pregnancy center, said she welcomed the state's offer to provide much-needed money for child care. Many teen-agers who would like to continue with their educations, she said, are now forced to leave school because they have no other way of caring for their children.
"We see kids dropping out of school every day because they don't have child care," she said.
According to Williams, teen-age parenthood places a considerable burden on the welfare system and contributes to the problem of illiteracy among aid recipients.
Nationwide, the school dropout rate for teen-age mothers is 80%. In 1985, U.S. taxpayers spent $16.6 billion on welfare, food stamps and medical care for families that were started when the mother was a teen-ager, according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Human Services.
Remain on Welfare
In California, 60% of the women on aid who are now under the age of 30 first began receiving assistance as teen-agers, Williams said. Not only have most of these mothers remained on public aid for many years, they also have never received the education they need to enter the working world, he said.
A recent study of welfare applicants and recipients in California indicated that 57% of those on welfare lack the basic skills that would enable them to find and keep a job. The same study found that 52% of those surveyed did not finish the 12th grade and that 43% never obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.
"If you start combining the teen-age pregnancy problem and the school dropout problem you're looking at our caseload," Williams said. "We're not dealing with a bunch of isolated problems--teen-age pregnancy, dropouts, lack of child care, lack of relevant vocational training--they're all interrelated."
The state will kick off its campaign to attract teen-age volunteers for Workfare with three conferences around the state in May to explain the program to counselors and professionals who work with young mothers.
The recruiting drive will begin in the 11 counties that already operate Workfare programs and will spread to other counties as they start their programs. Twenty-two more counties are expected to commence Workfare programs in the coming months and all 58 California counties will be participating by 1990.
Choice of Programs
In most cases, teen-age mothers who volunteer for Workfare will not be placed in regular classes but will have a choice of attending continuation school, taking vocational training or enrolling in an independent study program.