House helps mothers who are still girls

May. 02, 2014 @ 11:41 AM

Haley Rickard was 14 and in foster care in Henderson County when she became pregnant in 2011, and was still in foster care when she gave birth.

A teenage mother with a newborn is hard to place, so they were sent to the Marguerite Warren Noel Care House on the outskirts of Lenoir. Run by Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, the Care House provides housing for teenage single mothers and gives them vocational and parenting skills while allowing them to continue their education.

“It’s allowed me to live out my teen years and go to school, and also still be a mom,” Haley said.

Haley now is a junior at Hibriten High School. She is taking some honors classes and hopes to go to college. Her goal is to become a social worker or a Spanish translator.

The mothers can stay at Care House until they are 21. Of the four mothers now at the Care House, Haley has been there the longest. She arrived three days after her daughter was born. The average length of stay is one and a half years, said Jada Cable, Care House program supervisor and case manager.

“At 18, they can leave on their own, if their family can re-unify,” Cable said. “We don’t just turn them loose, they need permanency.”

Since 1989, when it first opened, the Care House has served more than 100 single teens mothers. Baptist Children’s Homes run 19 homes across North Carolina, but the Care House is the only one that accepts teen moms and babies. Care House staff members -- four live on-site, two at a time on alternating weeks - work with each mother, almost as surrogate parents. The young mothers are required to attend school and church, although they do not have to participate in the worship services, nor do they need to be Baptist.

The Care House sits on a high knoll just off N.C. 90, within view of Hibriten Mountain. The rural setting seems ideal for young mothers seeking a new start in life without the fear of homelessness or a lack of child care.

Their day starts at 7 a.m. with breakfast. They must be dressed and ready for school, and their children must be ready for day care. After the kitchen is cleaned up, the babies are taken to the on-site day-care center. At 7:40 a.m., the mothers board a van to go to school. By 3 p.m. they are back at the Care House and have a half-hour of down-time before picking up their babies at 3:30 p.m. Then appointments are met, educational programs are presented, or nurse visits are conducted.

Dinner is at 5 p.m., followed by more downtime, maybe spent on the patio outside on warm sunny days. Between 6 and 8 p..m. there are more chores, baths and playtime with the little ones, followed by homework. At 10 p.m., it’s lights out.

The residents come and go, but they leave a lasting legacy for the staff. Framed photos of all the residents line the walls of the large ranch-style house. The staff knows the girls must eventually find their own paths, but they become emotionally attached, long-time staff member Gloria Rose said.

“We know it’s our job to keep those boundaries in place, to allow the girls to keep their children’s needs met,” she said. “For us, this is a commitment, you have to be called by God. It’s very hard sometimes to see them come and then go.”