Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

GROUP HOMES? LONE ONE HERE IS SMALL, COSTLY Series: THE CONTRACT AND YOU SIDEBAR STORY

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

GROUP HOMES? LONE ONE HERE IS SMALL, COSTLY Series: THE CONTRACT AND YOU SIDEBAR STORY

Article excerpt

THE GARLICKY SMELL of baking pork chops wafts through the 90-year-old former convent in St. Louis. A pot of string beans simmers on the stove.

Two toddlers perch on a couch, their eyes riveted on a video. Another baby sits on his mother's lap, and a fourth naps upstairs.

At the dining room table, the children's teen-age mothers are chatting about their day, the way teen-agers do. On the wall nearby hangs a Mary Engelbreit poster of a comfortable home, unlike anything these girls knew growing up.

This is Odilia Home a group home for homeless teen mothers and their children. It's the kind of place Republicans point to when critics ask how teen mothers would support their children without welfare.

"The way to care for teen moms is not to send them a check each month, but to get them into an environment where you can influence them as well as their kids," says Rep. James M. Talent, R-Chesterfield. "We can end the incentives for illegitimacy and still provide better care for people who make a mistake and get pregnant."

Odilia Home is run by Almost Home, a program established two years ago by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary.

"Basically, these girls just got a poor cut of the cards in the families they were born into," says Sister Irene Radtke, the program director.

Some of the girls are fleeing abusive parents. Others have no parents.

"They slipslide around," says Radtke. "They usually go first with the father of the child, or a current boyfriend, or the baby's father's family, and then maybe to a grandmother or an auntie, a girlfriend or a cousin. A few have been living in cars."

At Odilia Home, a social worker helps residents qualify for welfare benefits, food stamps, Medicaid and day-care subsidies. A counselor works on personal problems. A nutritionist teaches healthy eating. A parent educator teaches appropriate discipline.

But the teen residents must take primary responsibility for themselves and their children. …

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