How boys become better parents

TO help young men be better fathers, social service agencies need to reach out to them. At present, few programs exist for teen fathers. And programs supposedly planned for both young men and women are often heavily geared toward women. Married and unmarried fathers are often shocked to learn how often babies cry and how slowly they develop. ``Even when these guys plan to be fathers, a lot of them aren't trained to know what to expect,'' notes Stanley Graham, coordinator of The Male's Place, a family-planning clinic for men in Charlotte, N.C.

``The way these human service agencies are set up, they're really not set up for meeting male needs, even to the extent of having men there to talk to,'' Mr. Graham says. ``Unless they come after him for child support, [the father] doesn't get too much participation in the process at all.''

The few programs that are designed for teen fathers have shown success in keeping them involved with their children and improving their parenting skills.

One such program, administered by the Bank Street College of Education in New York, offered 400 teen-age fathers in eight cities job training and referrals, parenting classes, and counseling on how to handle the pressure of the father's role.

At the end of two years, 82 percent of the fathers were in daily contact with their children, 74 percent were providing financial support, and 90 percent had an ongoing relationship with the baby's mother.

``Our conclusions are that it is possible to engage teen-age fathers, especially with male service providers,'' says Joelle Sander, coordinator of the project. ``A lot of these guys were very helpful to their partners and their children.''

Teen Alternative Parenting Program, part of the state Child Support Division in Indianapolis, helps young fathers get diplomas and job training.

Administrators deduct the hours fathers spend in school from the amount of child support they owe, so the fathers can improve their skills without going into debt.

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