AS Congress considers welfare reform and several states push for tighter eligibility for requirements, a report released yesterday provides a clue to the kind of approach that may help get young, disadvantaged mothers off welfare.The report says a two-year-old test project - New Chance, that provides comprehensive services for young mothers on welfare and their children - is showing initially positive results. The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) designed the program and released the report. New Chance is a research and demonstration project that uses a comprehensive set of services geared toward self-sufficiency. It aims to equip young women to find jobs and get off welfare early in life, and to become better parents. It operates out of 16 sites in 10 states and includes 2,300 young mothers and their children. Each site is run by a community-based organization. MDRC is in the second year of a seven-year study measuring the effectiveness of New Chance. It has found that the project is feasible to run and is reaching the women it targets. New Chance enrolls mothers aged 16 to 22 who are high-school dropouts and receiving welfare - a group that often finds itself too old for high school-based programs or too young for programs targeting adult recipients. It's a comprehensive program, providing education and employment services, parenting education, child care, and personal case management to the mothers. Children receive health care and develop-mentally oriented child care services. All the services are usually under one roof. The sites are supported primarily through public funding from state and local human services and job-training agencies, with 28 public and private funders supporting the overall costs of New Chance. The mothers typically attend the project five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On-site child-care is often provided. The mornings are spent in classes that prepare women for the high school general equivalency diploma (GED); afternoon classes cover possible careers and employers' expectations, decision-making, family planning and child development. Later, they move into skills training, internships related to their career choices, or further education. The goal is for each worker to move into unsubsidiz ed employment. Each mother has a case manager who acts as a monitor, advocate and sounding board. While there are many programs for teen mothers around the country, this is the first nationally based one with many diverse sites and a multifaceted approach, says Judith Gueron, president of MDRC. "Most focus on the mothers, not on the children," she says. "None have a comprehensive evaluation to find out if the program makes a difference in the lives of the children." MDRC officials say it's too soon to determine if New Chance is changing the lives of the mothers and children, but they report some progress. More than three-fourths of the young women who participated were still enrolled in the program after four months. After eight months, approximately one-fourth had received GEDs, and more than one-third had begun occupational skills training. Anthony Hermosillo, director of the New Chance program at the Community College of Denver says the results there are even higher; 65 percent have gotten GEDs so far. And with all the support services and group cohesiveness, Mr. Hermosillo he says the young women's self-esteem shows improvement. "When you see a young woman come into the class the first day weighing close to 200 pounds, with her hair in her face, and not saying anything to anybody, and a few weeks later, having lost 50 pounds, much more vocal, and her hair fixed - that's a positive step." This young woman, says Hermosillo, had dropped out of three GED programs before coming to New Chance. Today, he says, she's gotten her GED, an accounting certificate at the community college, and has work experience with the department of social services. "We wouldn't have thought that eight months ago," he says.