For many in North Carolina it is a no brainer: After a busy day there are few things that are more relaxing than coming home, sitting on the couch, and taking a few minutes to forget the stresses of the past nine hours. One’s home is supposed to be one’s safe haven.
But what happens when someone’s home is not their safe haven? Or, what happens when someone does not have a place that they can call home? This is a reality for far too many Americans, and as we will discover in this post, homelessness and unstable or unsafe housing are sad realities for many pregnant and parenting teens throughout the country. Additionally, housing status can be a risk factor for becoming pregnant in the first place.
But first, some background information. In 2010, the rate of teen pregnancy in North Carolina was 49.7; that is, out of every 1,000 girls aged 15-19, 49.7 became pregnant that year. North Carolina has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the United States has some of the highest rates among Western industrialized countries.
These teen pregnancy rates increase further for teens that are living in foster care or foster homes. Teen pregnancy disproportionality affect young people in foster care; this is not to say that foster care itself causes teen pregnancy, but rather that teens in foster care tend to have higher rates of risky sexual behaviors (multiple partners, younger age at first intercourse, less likely to use contraception) compared to their peers not in foster care. A study by the Healthy Teen Network found that those in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age nineteen. Teen pregnancy also effect homeless youth at a greater proportion than their non-homeless peers. The same study from the Healthy Teen Network noted that 13-15 year old homeless girls are 14 times more likely to be pregnant than non-homeless girls; likewise girls who report being away from home for longer periods of time more likely to be pregnant. Similar to teens in foster care, homeless youth are more likely to have sex at an earlier age, have multiple partners, have sex while intoxicated, and engage in “survival sex.” A staggering 46% of these girls become pregnant more than once during their teenage years. (For comparison’s sake, in 2010 the North Carolina repeat pregnancy rate was 27.0 for every 1,000 girls ages 15-19.)
Not having access to safe and supportive housing also puts pregnant and parenting teens at a great disadvantage. Without a stable space to call their own and often without family support and care, these young women are less likely to receive good prenatal care and are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or poor nutrition during pregnancy, often resulting in low birth weight or pre-term babies. As is the case with other teen parents, homeless young mothers are more likely to drop out of school and live in poverty. Safe and stable housing is necessary for a teen parent trying support herself and her child.
Though essential, finding affordable and stable housing and accessing needed assistance can be a difficult task for teen moms (heck, the housing market is one big mystery to me at age 27!). Many policies restrict their access to these necessities. For example, under the 1996 welfare law, an unmarried parent under 18 cannot receive welfare assistance unless she lives with a parent, guardian, or in an adult-supervised arrangement, thus making homeless youth ineligible for this assistance. However, many teens do not live at home because the home may not be a safe space. In these cases, states may waive the rule or help her find an alternative adult-supervised supportive residence (such as a Second Chance Home). Though a helpful addendum, this creates more red tape and bureaucracies for an already overwhelmed young person to navigate, and alternative supportive living arrangements are not present in every state. In those instances, teen moms could be forced to choose between unsafe homes and cash assistance. Furthermore, teens cannot go to domestic violence shelters or homeless shelters if they are under age 18, making Second Chance Homes all the more valuable.
What is Supportive Housing? How Can It Help Pregnant and Parenting Teens?
Supportive housing can be described as a highly integrated system of living arrangements and case management that provides pregnant and parenting teens with a safe place to live and access to helpful adults and other community resources. Key goals of supportive housing for pregnant and parenting teen include promoting self-sufficiency, increasing access to resources and housing stability, and encouraging good parenting and healthy relationships. Supportive housing is reported to decrease the likelihood of teens experiencing a repeat pregnancy.
One kind of supportive housing, Second Chance Homes, are a valuable resources for this population. Second Chance Homes provide adult supervised living and opportunities for teen parents to learn parenting and other life skills. Such services help to ensure their long term economic independence by increasing their sense of self-reliance, support and stability. Stability is key for the long term well-being of teen parents and their children. While Second Chance Homes are still a fairly new concept, limited early findings from the Healthy Teen Network show that residents have fewer repeat pregnancies, improved high school/GED completion rates, increased self-sufficiency, stronger life skills, and healthier babies.
The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services operates a network of seven Second Chance Homes. Early key findings of their work reveal that among young mothers living in such homes, less than 1% experienced a repeat pregnancy, 93% of the mothers aged 17 and under were enrolled in some type of education, and 97% of the children had regular health care and were up to date on their vaccinations. Two years after leaving the homes, 67% of mothers 18 and older were employed and 73% of children were in their mother’s custody. A pretty impressive impact indeed.
North Carolina has residential facilities for pregnant and parenting teens, though they are limited. One such program, My Sister Susan’s House (MSSH), in Greensboro boasts a strong residential program that includes four suites for women ages 18-21 and their children. This program is voluntary and works specifically with pregnant or parenting young women who are fleeing a situation involving domestic or interpersonal violence, typically with minimal supervision or structure.
The staff works with residents to help them develop skills to become independent, empowered, and self-sufficient, specifically focusing on building healthy relationships, healing from abuse, improving self-esteem, and increasing personal resilience. The design of the building gives mothers and their children privacy as well as shared areas for cooking, eating, and socializing. The house collaborates with UNC Greensboro for social work, nutrition, speech pathology, breast feeding education, and program evaluation services. Additionally, the women are provided with no-cost transitional housing and can remain at MSSH for up to two years, with an average length of stay being one year. Since 2009, when the program officially began, MSSH has successfully exited 6 out of 12 teen mothers.
A short drive away in Winston-Salem, My Aunt’s House at the Children’s Home provides supportive living facilities for teen moms and their children. Here teens create and implement life plans to prevent future homelessness and learn life skills related to obtaining or finishing their education and preparing to work. Young moms have access to counseling and educational services to delay repeat pregnancies as well as access to childcare. More information on these or other supportive housing facilities for teens in North Carolina can be found here. In the meantime we can all advocate for the increased presence of Second Chance Homes in North Carolina and for policies that support the best outcomes for young parents and their children.