Many teen parents struggle to meet one of the most basic human needs - finding a safe place to live. Luckily, some North Carolinians are working to end homelessness for teen parents.
In our last post, we talked about the increased risks and challenges young parents and their families face. Chief among these is the likelihood of not graduating from school, and the subsequent consequences of not completing an education.
Luckily, federal, state, and local statutes; mentoring programs; and school-specific strategies that exist, giving pregnant and parenting teens a better chance of graduating from high school. These teens face a wide array of barriers in attending and succeeding in school, as they juggle schoolwork and parenting responsibilities, try to access to affordable child care and transportation, and deal with discrimination from school personnel.
Remember the following information if you are a teen who finds herself pregnant, a teen father, or if you are an individual in a position to help a teen graduate.
First of all, pregnant and parenting teens need to know that it is their basic right to continue school following the birth of their child. This was made clear under Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972. Title IX mandates that all schools receiving federal funds provide pregnant and parenting (male and female) teens with equal access to schools, classes, services, and extracurricular activities other students would receive. Title IX includes the following directives:
- Pregnant and parenting teens cannot be made to go to a separate school.
- Schools must prevent and address sex-based harassment.
- Schools must offer pregnant students the same benefits that they would offer to students with other medical conditions.
- Excused absences must be allowed for the length of time that the doctor says the student needs to recover.
In North Carolina
The North Carolina State Law, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, was passed in 2006 and contains requirements that schools in our state must adhere to in addition to what is mandated at the federal level. These requirements consist of the following:
- Local boards of education must adopt a policy to ensure that pregnant and parenting students are not discriminated against. Extra funds from the At-Risk Student Services allocation must be used for support programs for these students, such as tutors, graduation coaches, and transportation.
- Requirements related to excused absences, homebound instruction, and just treatment must be in place.
- When a student returns to school, she must be restored to the full academic and extracurricular status she held when her leave began.
- Homework and makeup work must be assigned to help the student keep current and to prevent her from losing credit
(Here is a full list of Title IX coordinators in North Carolina.)
North Carolina School Boards
School boards must have a policy in place at to ensure that local schools comply with state laws to protect pregnant and parenting teens. These policies vary from school to school, but here are some key points from the Orange County Board Policy:
Pregnant and parenting students….
- Have the right to attend school.
- Will receive homework assignments and make up work.
- Have access to a homebound instructor when medically necessary; this instructor will be available two week prior to delivery and six weeks after.
- Will have all pregnancy-related absences excused.
- Cannot bring their child to school, unless it is part of a class.
- Can have certain activities limited if the doctor states that participation in such activities could be dangerous to her health.
These are the basics. However, schools can do more than simply comply with standard policies.
Best Practices Beyond the Law
Sometimes being of the most help to pregnant and parenting teens requires thinking outside the box and considering each individual teen’s needs. Schools can create individualized learning plans for pregnant and parenting teens, provide an at-home tutor, provide on-site child care, and put policies in place to protect girls from harassment and bullying. Additionally, schools can reach out to students who have dropped out following a pregnancy or birth, rather than just letting these students fall off of the radar. Schools must make a firm commitment to enforcing these policies; written laws are not enough.
More effective and long-lasting change can best be achieved when helping pregnant and parenting teens is a community-wide effort. Schools should work with organizations like social services, health departments, and other support networks to ensure that students have all necessary resources and assistance. Adolescent Parenting Programs are a fantastic resource for these young parents. Such programs work to provide support for parenting teens by helping them to remain in school, graduate, and delay a second pregnancy.
The main message to schools is for them to not give up on pregnant and parenting teens. The federal and state statues in place provide a strong foundation, but it is up to caring professionals in the school and community to ensure that pregnant and parenting teens have a fighting chance. Because, when girls don’t graduate, we all fail.
Welcome to the first in a two-part series examining the importance of education for pregnant and parenting teens current educational challenges facing teen parents, federal and state statutes that are in place governing their education, and ways in which schools and communities can support and encourage these young parents. Part I of this series attempts to answer the question, “What is the Problem?” Part II will delve into the various ways in which we can help pregnant and parenting teens succeed. (Please note that educational outcomes for teen parents may suffer for both the young mothers and fathers, but that for the purpose of this post, we will be examining the outcomes and statistics for mothers only.)
Although many of us likely do not think about it on a daily basis, having a high school diploma is essentially a passport to opportunity. A high school diploma does not simply give one greater access to colleges and universities, but a high school diploma also leads to a greater chance of finding employment and stable housing and a decreased chance of both being in poverty and having poor developmental outcomes for the child of the dropout. Poor educational outcomes also tend to have a generational effect.
This issue is especially prevalent for the 18,000 plus teens that give birth every year in North Carolina (which has the 14thhighest rate in the United States in the country). Both the National Women’s Law Center and the National Campaign have done quite a bit of research on the importance of education for young women (and pregnant and parenting teens in particular). Their results are eye opening:
- One in two high school dropouts between the ages of 25 and 64 are unemployed.
- In 2006, adult women without a high school diploma earned an average of $15,500 a year. This amount is over $6,000 less annually than women with their high school diploma.
- Less than 2% of teen mothers obtain their college degree by age thirty.
- Only two thirds of children born to teen mothers earned a high school diploma, compared to 81% of children born to older parents.
- Children of teen mothers often do not perform as well on other measures of child development (i.e. language, communication, and cognition) and are 50% more likely to repeat a grade versus children born to older parents.
Clearly a high school education is extremely important to success later in life, yet it is a fundamental piece missing in the lives of many pregnant and parenting teens. The National Campaign found that 51% of teen moms have a high school diploma, compared to 89% of girls who are not teen moms. Furthermore, only 38% of teen moms have their diploma before they turn 18. (To help put things in perspective, the dropout rate for all females in North Carolina in 2003-2004 was 28%. This means that for every 100 girls in the state, about 72 graduate.) A survey conducted by the Gates Foundation of high school dropouts across the country discovered that for one-half of the females interviewed becoming a parent played a role in their decisions to leave school; 33 percent of these women said it was a “major factor.”
However, the decision to drop out does not exist in a bubble. This same survey by the Gates Foundation found that those teens who left school because they became a parent were more likely than any other group of dropouts to say that they would have “worked harder if their schools had demanded more of them and provided the necessary support.” In order to best succeed, teens need the support of their family, their school, and their community. Teens require firm policies and practices in place that enable them to graduate, rather than ones that simply let teens fall by the wayside.
Teen parents face some extraordinary trials that require community wide commitment and support. There exist five big challenges that seem to repeat for pregnant and parenting teens in a variety of settings:
- Re-enrolling teen parents who have been out of school following the
- Finding childcare and transportation for their child so that the teen parent can go to school.
- Finding the money for childcare, as inadequate funding exists for childcare subsidies.
- Finding the money for transportation; vouchers for such are limited due to budget cuts.
- The need to advocate to school administrators who are often unaware of the federal and state laws that mandate equal educational opportunities for pregnant and parenting teens and may simply want the problem to “go away” by having the teen parent attend an alternative school or receive their G.E.D.
Luckily, there are ways to help at the local, state, and federal level. Missed educational opportunities are not an issue that can be simply swept under the table, but rather is an issue that necessitates time and support. In our next post we will examine the modes of help and support which exist for pregnant and parenting teens.
Fact: Teens in Europe and in the United States generally have the same rates of sexual activity, but the United States has a teenage pregnancy rate three times that of Germany and France and four times of that the Netherlands. For the United States (which has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world) to have the same rate of teen births as Germany, there would need to be roughly 340,000 fewer births by teenage mothers a year. How and why can such a discrepancy exist? To examine this question, let’s take a look a day in the (fictional) life of “Shelby,” a sixteen year old living in North Carolina, and “Laura,” a sixteen year old living in Germany. As we will see, the varying influence of education, media, peers, parents, and the availability of contraception combine to create a very different story when it comes to teen pregnancy at home and across the pond.
Shelby hears the honk of car horn in the driveway. Peeking outside the window, she sees her boyfriend waiting to drive her to school. She shouts a quick goodbye to her parents and hops into the front seat beside him. Shelby and Tom have been dating for about two months and had sex for the first time last week. Shelby was tired of being the only one of her friends who had not had sex and felt that she could trust Tom. (Fact: Teens with sexually active friends are more likely to be sexually active themselves).
Shelby’s parents have no idea that she and Tom are sleeping together. The most they have ever discussed sex occurred one night two years ago, and was essentially included her father telling her, “If you ever get pregnant before the age of 25 you will grounded until you’re fifty,” after reading an article on Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. Birth control or safe sex practices were never discussed and Shelby figured her parents would just get mad at her for asking. (Fact: Only 10% of families in the U.S. engage in on-going conversations about sex with their teens. In a national sample of parents asked how often they talked with their children about sex, 54% reported never, 28% said rarely, and 5% said about once a year.) However, Shelby and Tom did practice safe sex. Tom used condoms that he purchased at a drugstore two towns over, one of the few places he felt comfortable buying them. (Fact: North Carolina schools are prohibited by law to distribute contraception to students.Teens that do not use contraception have a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.) Shelby considered going on the Pill, but in the end decided it was more trouble than what it was worth; plus, she would be so embarrased if her mother found out. (Fact: If Shelby went to a family planning clinic to receive birth control, her insurance would pay for part of the contraception and her visit would be kept confidential. However, the birth control would still show up on the explanation of her benefits.)
As Shelby sits through her morning classes, she thinks about how relieved she is to no longer have to sit through “sex ed,” a misnomer that she and her friends found to be very uncomfortable. When Shelby had to take such classes, the focus was on abstinence only education and such was described as the only full proof way of preventing pregnancy. Now at least she knows her younger sister will get more helpful information on contraception and protection as a result of the Healthy Youth Act, which requires that all North Carolina schools teach on all FDA-approved methods of contraception. Still, Shelby thinks, shaking her head, it’s amazing how much you can forget after a year or two. (Fact: Sex education is required in grades 7-9—usually as part of health class– in North Carolina. There is not a set sex ed curriculum for counties in North Carolina to follow, nor are there set regulations for the United States as a whole.)
Later that day Shelby flips through an old gossip magazine. She smirks to see Bristol Palin featured in a Candie’s Foundation ad, part of the organization’s campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. She sighs as she realizes that Bristol and the girls in Teen Mom are her pregnancy “role models.” (Fact: The United States has few long term national prevention campaigns that are widely or consistently distributed. If anything, the United States has a “You play, you pay” mentality—which is one state’s current slogan.) Shelby is just happy that she can trust Tom to use condoms and believes that is enough to keep both of them safe.
Per tradition, Laura and her mother sit at the breakfast table, enjoying a morning meal of toast with nutella before the craziness of the upcoming day unfolds. Laura just told her mom about an older student at her school who just found out she was pregnant with twins, even though she claimed to be on the Pill.
Her mother sighs, “Did she not realize that she had to take it every day at the same time in order for it to be most effective? What about her partner—was he wearing condoms?” (Fact: German youth are five times more likely to be on the Pill than youth in the United States.)
Laura rolls her eyes, “I don’t knowww, Mom—I am not her. Maybe he was? I don’t know. It’s not like they’re difficult to get.” (Fact: 83% of male teens in Germany use condoms, which are readily available in a variety of public places, including restaurants and vending machines.)
Laura’s mom responds, “Well, you know how important it is to use a backup method. And if you have trouble getting any kind of method at all, you tell me and I will help you find one.”(Fact: In Germany, 73% of daughters and 53% of sons report receiving sexuality education from their parents. Parents in Germany support their teen’s use of protection in sexual relationships.)
“Trust me Mom, I know. This is the tenth time you have told me this month,” Laura says as she runs out the door. Though her tone is sarcastic, Laura is grateful for the open conversation she can have with her mother about these topics.
Funny enough, how to have a conversation about choosing the right birth control method with one’s partner was discussed in her morning class. Mom would be thrilled, Laura thought to herself, as she acted the part of a girl explaining how an IUD works to her boyfriend. (Fact: Schools in Germany have consistent sex education programs that are essentially integrated into all school subjects. Relationships are a key concern in the sex ed program, with a focus on dual support for sexual behavior.) Laura herself has not had sex yet, though not out of a sense of fear or a lack of information. Rather, she hasn’t had a serious boyfriend and finds herself busy enough hanging out with friends and playing field hockey. A few of her friends have had sex—in fact, Laura went with one of her girlfriends when she made the decision to go on the Pill. (Fact: Doctor visits and contraception are covered in Germany through their universal health care system.)
After a long day, Laura and a few friends begin the walk back home. On their way, they notice a new billboard stressing the importance of condom use in sexual relationships. They grin at the hokey tag line, though it’s no worse than the previous ads in its spot. Later, as they flip on the television, Laura sees a commercial that is reminiscent of what she had studied in health class, another part of the country’s nationwide campaign for safe sexual practices. (Fact: This nationwide campaign in Germany includes 4-6 TV spots on channels that have donated spots of free air time, billboards, and posters that publish new educational themes every 3 months, and advertisement partners who provide free printing and distribution to 70,000 locations.) The push for safe sex, all while stressing individual freedom and responsibility, is not lost on Laura. More than once today she was reminded how it important it is for her to be her own advocate.
What lessons do you think we can take from Europe in how we discuss and look at teen pregnancy and sexuality? Do you believe these lessons would be easily adopted in the United States?
If you want more information on the differences between teen sexual behavior in the United States and in Europe, check out the Advocates for Youth web site; they conducted an extremely interesting and informative report on the topic.