Halifax Daily News

Sunday, April 11, 1999

Teens have babies to collect welfare

Believe social assistance will let them live `high on the hog'

By Jo-Anne MacDonald -- The Daily News

Pictou County teens are deliberately getting pregnant because they believe a baby is a steady source of love and money, says the executive director of the local Planned Parenthood.

Even though today's teenagers are inundated with condom commercials and safe-sex messages, rural Nova Scotians don't have easy access to birth control. And some don't want it.

Arlene MacDonald estimates a third of the 75 to 100 teenagers coming in every month for a pregnancy test are hoping for a positive result, while another third are terrified of it. An equal number didn't do anything to prevent a baby and are "wishy-washy" about the consequences, she says.

"Once they discuss what their background is, you come to realize it's their avenue of escape. Others come right out and say, `Well, my friend got pregnant. Now she's got her own apartment, and we all go over there to party and I want to have my own apartment.' A lot of them aren't shy about saying it," says MacDonald.

A Grade 11 student came in for a pregnancy test for six months straight, and was "as excited as can be" when it was positive.

An 18-year-old woman went back to her abusive boyfriend just to get pregnant and qualify for social assistance.

"So that she could get out and get an apartment of her own, away from him," says MacDonald.

In 1996, 1,337 Nova Scotians between the ages of 15 and 19 got pregnant, down from 1,520 four years earlier.

Teenagers from low-income homes can't afford birth control or don't want their parents to know they're having sex, MacDonald says. They have to rely on their partners to use a condom, and many don't have enough self-esteem to demand it.

Some are desperate to avoid pregnancy, while others see it as an income opportunity. They buy into a societal misconception welfare recipients live "high on the hog."

Reality sinks in soon after the baby arrives. A young single mother with a child qualifies for $880 a month in assistance.

"They come back to me, can I help them get Similac; they're short this month, can we convince their (social) worker to get them Similac. We do what we can to help them," says MacDonald.

Planned Parenthood has urged the Department of Health to cover the $234. 80 annual cost of birth control pills for low-income women and teenagers.

The group estimates it could save the province the $17,172 per person over a 15-month period - from three months prenatal to 12 months post - it costs for a woman who has to go on social assistance because of an unplanned pregnancy.

COPYRIGHT (1999) The Halifax Daily News