Toronto Star

Saturday, March 6, 1999

Tories tie teen welfare to schooling

No benefits for young mothers if they don't attend

By Caroline Mallan
Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau

Teenage mothers on welfare will have to go to high school or lose their benefits.

And they will have to take 35 hours of instruction in how to be better parents.

``We want to help teen parents finish high school, become better parents and get off welfare,'' Social Services Minister Janet Ecker said yesterday.

Ecker announced the expansion of the province's workfare program at Humewood House in Toronto, a residence for young women, 14 to 21, who need shelter and counselling.

That move would make Ontario the first province in Canada to impose mandatory school for 16- and 17-year-old welfare mothers.

Ecker pledged $25 million to help the mothers with child care and transportation costs while they attend school. If they refuse, their welfare benefits will be cut off.

``I think ignoring someone who is a teen parent on welfare and simply handing them a welfare cheque is not helping that individual by any stretch of the imagination,'' she said.


`Adult day school has been cancelled because of this government'
- MPP Mike Colle
(L - Oakwood)

The extra money won't go to the mothers. Municipalities will be asked to implement the new Learning, Earning and Parenting (LEAP) program before 2000.

The ministry estimates about 1,200 girls, 16 to 17, will be required to participate. But the program will also be offered to about 7,000 other young mothers, 18 or older, who normally would be forced to participate in workfare instead.

Getting an education for these young women is the key to getting them and their children off welfare, Ecker said.

``The goal of LEAP is not only to help teen parents get off welfare but also to break the cycle of dependency for themselves and their children,'' she said.

The program was one of the Conservative Party's commitments in the Common Sense Revolution on which it campaigned in the 1995 election.

Lynda MacInnes, executive director of Humewood House, which opens its doors to many pregnant teens and new teenage mothers, welcomed the move to make it easier for them to attend school.

``Most of all, we appreciate that you sought out the involvement of the young mothers when it came to designing this program,'' MacInnes told Ecker.

It will offer a reward for each teenage mother who graduates from high school.

An education bursary of $500 will be given to each graduate for post-secondary schooling. That money can also be put in trust for the graduate's child.

The government did away with a provision that allowed teens to collect welfare, including teenage mothers. But exceptions were made where the teen was in an abusive situation or could not rely on her parents for support.

Welfare paid to teenage mothers is overseen by a trustee to ensure it is spent on food and housing.

Liberal MPP Mike Colle (Oakwood), who lives a few doors away from Humewood House, said the announcement does little to help single teenage mothers get ahead.

``There's not so much as a room to rent around here because of a lack of low-cost housing,'' Colle said, noting that ending rent control has left many young mothers desperate for accommodation.

``Adult day school has been cancelled because of this government. That's what people need,'' he said.

To the National Anti-Poverty Organization, the policy is punitive because it rests on ``a huge assumption that poor people aren't able to parent and the rich are,'' spokesperson Laurie Rektor said.

Better, she said, to raise welfare rates, which the Tory government cut by 21.6 per cent.

Liberal critic Sandra Pupatello said that unless the province opens day care spots, teen mothers must quit school.

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