National Post

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Saturday, March 06, 1999

Teen welfare moms forced back to class
1,200 affected: Ontario first province to enact such legislation

Tom Blackwell
Southam News

Teenage mothers on welfare in Ontario will now have to return to high school and take parenting classes as soon as possible after their baby is born, or lose their social assistance cheques.

The Ontario government says it's the first in Canada to force teenage moms on welfare back to school.

And it sets teen moms apart from older welfare mothers, who don't have to join workfare until their children are school age.

"A teen parent on welfare can set themselves up to be on and off social assistance for the rest of their life if they don't get their education completed," said Janet Ecker, the Social Services Minister.

The government plans to spend $25-million to help with child-care and transportation costs.

Ms. Ecker said case workers will decide in individual cases exactly how soon after giving birth a mother should hit the books again.

"There's not a hard-and-fast rule on the when," she said. "But there's definitely a hard-and-fast rule that there will be a when. And that will be as quickly as makes sense in the circumstance."

Agencies that work with teen mothers say the program unfairly assumes they make bad parents, and could deprive them of the time they need to bond with their baby.

Employment Insurance provides new mothers with 18 weeks of benefits so they can stay off work, and many employers extend that to more than a year, said Joy Thompson, of Planned Parenthood Toronto.

"A teenage mother forced to return to school in order to essentially put food on the table for herself and her infant has had a certain right and choice taken away," she said.

There are about 1,200 single mothers between 16 and 17 on welfare in Ontario, most of them living away from their parents' homes. Teen mothers younger than age of 16 do not qualify for welfare.

Under the new program, called LEAP, for Learning, Earning and Parenting, teen mothers can go to an actual school, or take classes at a centre for young mothers, Ms. Ecker said.

If they graduate, and complete the 35 hours of parenting classes, they get $500 toward their own or their child's education.

Copyright Southam Inc.