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YOUNGSTOWN Organizers fight to unite foster teens with babies



Published: Sat, August 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Keeping teens and their babies together will cost less and do more good, said one child welfare system worker.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A teen in foster care has a baby of her own.

The young mother returns to one foster home, the newborn goes to another. The baby is in the system now, and the viscous cycle is ripe to continue.

Valerie Thomas has watched such scenarios play out too often during her 20 years working in the child welfare system.

She and some others have spent three years working to create a place where those teen mothers and their babies can stay together and eventually become a self-sufficient family.

"We want to fill that gap," Thomas said. "That's a child who won't be in the system."

The goal is drawing nearer. Lack of money, as usual, is in the way.

Organizers of the New Dawn Residential Facility have thought out their mission. Recently, they had a home at 2216 Jacobs Road donated to them. The East Side residence has space for four teen mothers and their babies.

Revenue to run the facility would come from the agencies that now care for the teens, ages 14-18, and their children, Thomas said.

She is convinced that keeping teens and their babies together and providing the services they need will cost less money and create stronger future families than plain foster care.

Finding funds: New Dawn needs about $60,000 to pay start-up costs. The group is looking for grants and donations to make the program a reality, Thomas and her supporters Friday told the Mayor's Task Force on Crime and Violence Prevention.

The group is open to any other ideas on generating funding, too.

Thomas works at the Northeast Ohio Adoption Agency and has worked with kids in foster care for two decades. Breaking the foster care cycle has been a goal or hers for years.

She met a like-minded person in Leonard Moyer, a task force member who works at Home Savings Bank and has volunteered to help such kids for several years. Joseph Clark Jr. of Youngstown has worked in corrections for 14 years and is eager to keep kids out of institutions instead of locking them up.

Welfare and long-term foster care are becoming vestiges of the past, so teen mothers need to be made ready for the world quickly, Thomas said.

Besides providing a home setting, New Dawn will work with the foster care system to keep teens and their children living together.

Educating: Mothers in the program will receive the academic education, life skills and job training they need to support themselves and the baby. Mentors and counseling are also part of the plan.

Fathers, often forgotten in the equation, will be brought into their child's life when possible, too.

Thomas and Moyer want to raise the money needed by year's end to accomplish their goal of opening New Dawn. The future of area teens in foster care and their children is at stake.

"There's a split. They need a little help," Moyer said.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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