Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Help for pregnant teens

Group residence offers support for minors

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        ERLANGER — The saddest thing to Joan Grillet is that she must wait until February to begin helping pregnant teens.

        Ms. Grillet is the development director for Mercy Maternity Home, an Erlanger facility that when it opens will give up to six pregnant girls a place to live while they go to school and have their babies.

        It is one of only a few such facilities in the Tristate area, and the only one like it in Northern Kentucky, she said. Even when it opens, it won't be enough to meet the needs.

        “I have turned a houseful (of girls) away ... already,” Ms. Grillet said. “There's definitely a need for this in the community.”

        Mary Reed, the home's director, said girls younger than 18 may be referred from anywhere in Greater Cincinnati at any point in their pregnancy, but the earlier in their pregnancy the better. They can stay up to two months after the baby is born.

        After that, Ms. Grillet said, mother and baby likely will be placed in foster care.

        “The stress of meeting basic needs is what we hope to relieve,” Ms. Reed said. “Maybe then they can make clear decisions about their future.”

        New Hope Center, a crisis pregnancy center and medical clinic, will likely be one of the referring agencies.

        “We've probably called them four or five times waiting for them to open,” said New Hope director Sherry Friedman. New Hope has offices in Edgewood, Williamstown and Latonia. Its clinic conducts pregnancy tests and ultrasound examinations.

        Other facilities, such as Madonna House in Fort Mitchell or Gardens at Greenup in Covington, typically work with pregnant women ages 18 and older. They aren't licensed to accept minors.

        Mercy Maternity is unique in Northern Kentucky because it is a group home that will take minors who can't stay at home because their parents' insurance won't cover their prenatal care or because they are no longer welcome.

        When that happens, minor moth ers become wards of the state and usually are placed in foster care, said Sarah Tomer, coordinator of Brighton Center's Independent Living program. In such cases, Ms. Tomer said, the state Cabinet for Families and Children can force the girl's parents to pay child support.

        While at the house, the girls are required to attend Boone County High School or R.A. Jones Middle School in Florence or to study for their general equivalency diploma.

        The Northern Kentucky Independent Health District in Edgewood compiles teen birth data for Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties. According to Scott Bowden, a senior health planner, there were 547 babies born to unmarried girls, ages 10 through 19, in 1998 — the latest data available — in those counties.

        The Rev. Terry Crigger, pastor at Christ's Chapel Assembly of God Church on Turfway Road, said he has wanted to have something like Mercy Maternity for at least 10 years.

        He participated in abortion clinic protests in the early 1990s, but he looks forward to helping in a different way. There was also expansion at the church to consider.

        “In my heart I wanted to do something proactive instead of protesting,” he said.

        “For several years we were waiting for an opportunity. We were busy building our own church building.”

        The opportunity came in March 1999, when the church bought a house for $210,000 and spent another $45,000 renovating it. The home was supposed to open in October, but Ms. Reed said it took longer than expected to hire staff and obtain a state license.

        The Rev. Mr. Crigger said it's going to take about $160,000 a year to run the house, including $30,000 to open it. Problem is, there's only about $4,000 on hand now.

        Ms. Grillet said she has talked to potential corporate sponsors and has faith the home will work.

        “I have a feeling there are thousands of people who have a heart for this kind of project,” she said.

        For more information call (859) 371-1888 or write to Mercy Maternity Home, P.O. Box 18894, Erlanger, Ky. 41018.


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