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Notes from a Fellow: Empowering Teen Moms

Notes from a Fellow: This is the third post from Jostin Grimes, a summer fellow with ICS through the Southern Education Leadership Initiative. Throughout the summer, Jostin will share reflections on his experience at ICS, thoughts on the field, and updates on projects. You can follow the posts here.

Greetings once again! It is crazy to think that I am already blogging for my third post for the summer and completing the fourth week of this wonderful fellowship. Not only have I discovered new topics that are associated with early childhood education but I have also found  strategies that nonprofits are using to challenge the current edu policy status quo. Being a part of the i(cs) team has given me the innate ability to analyze education articles and discussions through a critical lense. As the weeks progress I am beginning to craft my independent research that I will be presenting at the end of the fellowship. Conducting independent research will give me the necessary platform to critique and reshape current policies and think-tank organizations that focus solely on child success and empowerment.

While working on my first policy brief which covered the current landscape of early childhood education, I stumbled across a topic that is somewhat of a taboo topic in America: teenage pregnancy. More specifically, the various services available to those who are with child. Often, young women who are pregnant are ostracized from their families and are forced to find alternative methods to provide for themselves and their newborns. The majority of the young women who are pregnant identify with the low SES category and have to utilize governmental subsidies such as Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WIC) and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF, commonly referred to as welfare). Secondly, teen pregnancy forces these young women to place a hold on their current educational endeavors, future plans, and in some instances put a cease to their social life. Maintaining a healthy pregnancy requires the mother to spend a significant amount of money on food and medicine for herself and for her child, and to make a financial plan for child care once the baby arrives. The emotional and financial gap that is associated with being a first time mother can be stressful, but with adequate amount from healthcare officials and child care advocates this can be reduced.

This gap in education can lead towards a strain on a mother’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development, as well as employment opportunities. In turn, this strain can affect a mom’s relationship with her child, as well as her child’s future educational attainment.This absence of services and increase in teen pregnancy rates sparked the interests of Dr. David Olds, University of Colorado, who developed the Nurse-Family Partnership to address this problem.  This non-profit organization is a home-visitation service that assists first-time, teenage mothers (15-19 yrs old) in assisting them during the nurturing stage (0-2yrs). For teenage mothers who make 185% at or below the federal poverty level,trained and certified nurses assure a healthy delivery, maintain good health and child development,and provides the mother with a vision and goals for the future.  In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley is working diligently with private funders and organizers to expand NFP’s reach to more than 3,000 new mothers and children in the state beginning in 2016 through Pay for Success financing. South Carolina seeks to reduce preterm births and improve number of first time mothers that are served.

Learning about early intervention programs such as NFP has ignited a drive to question the current policies, services, and funding allocated to teenage mothers.How are teen mothers expected to raise a well-developed child when there are limited resources to assist with child care and development? Why is there a lack of family child care centers in densely populated urban areas? What are schools doing to educate teen mothers on ways to find proper resources for childcare? The reality is that teen pregnancy is prevalent with the majority of teens dropping out of high school due to pregnancy and early parenthood. Due to these circumstances high schools are experiencing exponential increases in dropout rates for teenage mother. Instead of belittling teen mothers, reformers, governmental officials, and school administrators should partner with health and early child care organizations to implement support systems and resources to provide to these mothers and families.

As a student of sociology, I was interested in observing how the self-efficacy theory (Albert Bandura, 1977) played a role in the structural composition of an early intervention service such as NFP. Bandura, a renowned psychologist and sociologist, provides us with a context in the relationship between behavior and achievement/outcome. For example, a mother will contact the Nurse-Family Partnership if they strongly believe that this will improve child development and school readiness. The work from committed nurses and social services through the Nurse-Family Partnership is another example of early intervention programs offered to families.

Bandura quote

The fight towards equality for silenced and oppressed voices is on the rise – in order for this action to be successful there has to be a strong willingness to challenge and critique systematic components that target marginalized individuals.

When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” -Audre Lord

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