Teen pregnancies have been declining for almost two decades now, and the rates in Vermont and New Hampshire are among the lowest in the nation. While that may be good news, it's also one reason a residential program for teen mothers in Lebanon, New Hampshire is closing its doors. That will leave some teens without social services they have come to depend on.
The cozy white clapboard house on a tree-lined street has rooms for six young women who are pregnant or new mothers without another place to live. Most come from low income families, some have been abused or struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and a few would be homeless if they hadn't been taken in by Hannah House.
On a recent gray day, there were two toddlers and one infant in the day care room. A young mother who preferrred not to be interviewed-the only resident right now-- walked in and tickled her baby. She will soon be moving out, and no one knows what will happen to this house after that, because there are not enough referrals to keep the rooms full and the bills paid. According to Executive Director Randy Walker, Hannah House has been losing money for the past few years.
"The board made a courageous but very tough decision to close the programs. The staff didn't necessarily agree with that decision but we are working it out and moving on," Walker said.
After 17 years at Hannah House, Walker has been laid off, along with 11 other staffers who provide not only in-house but also outreach services to young women in crisis-mothers or mothers to-be who need homes, jobs, transportation, and training in basic life skills like balancing a checkbook, kicking addictions, and applying for work.
"Our program is a very homey program where the kids get a lot of individual attention from staff who have a long history of understanding the issues of teen pregnancy," Walker said.
Walker says many women who are referred to Hannah House come from dysfunctional families. Nevertheless, he says the trend is to place pregnant teens with relatives or foster parents. That's fine for many, he says, but not for all.
"When it works that's great, but with some kids that's not going work, they're not going to change their behavior because they've never had a structure, they've never had a family that cared about them enough to say, "You have to be home at ten o'clock, or you have to do your homework, or we're going to have a meal at six o'clock and you need to be there-that wasn't part of their lexicon."Walker said.
Even though he's lost his job, Walker hopes that Hannah House program can be re-configured so that pregnant teens who are too poor or troubled to raise healthy kids can get the help they need for themselves and their babies. An interim short-term director has been named to help come up with ways to save at least the outreach services, and perhaps the day care center, and community forums will be held to get more input.