Galway projects give advice, support to lone parents


Teenage parenting was not a subject that captured much attention during the general election campaign, and for those young women involved it may have been just as well.

Their generation may be too young to remember but some memories are still fresh about the Progressive Democrats' proposals on single mothers during the 1997 campaign.

The reaction that followed ensured that the subject was not brought up again, stifling a debate which could also have highlighted the political party's failure to address the responsibility of fathers, the low percentage of men who pay maintenance (only 3 per cent pay maintenance, according to last year's Comptroller and Auditor General's report).

There is also the fact that payments to lone parents take up only about 5 per cent of the social welfare budget, according to recent statistics.

Five years on, the lot of many lone parents has not materially improved, while female poverty is worse now than it was in 1994, according to the National Women's Council of Ireland.

At local level in Galway, several valuable initiatives are making a difference to young people's lives, and it is hoped that long-term funding can be secured. Galway City Partnership (GCP) and the Western Health Board (WHB) are principal supporters, and the aim is to ensure that teenage mothers are given parenting support and are also offered opportunities in education and training which will help them to avoid the poverty trap.

Two years ago, a teen parenting project was set up by the WHB as one of three pilot initiatives nationally. It involves home-based "first steps" information and guidance on what to expect for young mothers, from the time that they are pregnant until their baby is two years old.

Some 22 voluntary visitors - experienced older mothers - keep in touch with the young mothers in Galway, though it can be more difficult to maintain contact with women in more remote rural areas.

There have been some 200 referrals to it to date, according to project leader, Aileen Davies.

The "Gaf", nickname for the health board's health-advice café in Galway's Francis Street, is the venue for some of its sessions. There is a weekly antenatal class, and there is also a weekly support group for young parents and their babies which is held in the Independent Parenting Centre on Munster Avenue.

The Galway Youth Federation runs a Young Mothers in Education project, which is financed by the GCP and by the health board. The focus is on providing individual assistance, information and grinds, and it also runs a peer support group which meets regularly.

Last year, five young mothers sat their Leaving Certificate exams, according to project worker Eleanor Clancy.

Now in its fourth year, some 49 people are involved, four of whom are doing their Leaving this year and several more of whom are attending post-Leaving Cert courses or continuing to further education. Natasha Kelly, mother of a 21-month-old baby boy, is doing voluntary work two days a week with an after-school group in Bohermore, Galway, but hopes to go to college next September.

She is looking forward to it, but is well aware of the continued shortcomings of a system that keeps people locked in a social welfare trap - such as the impact on rent allowance, and the cost of childcare, for women who try to work full time.