Helping Pregnant and Parenting Teens Find Housing

young_woman_babyIn 2002, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that there are 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth under eighteen years of age in the United States. Of this number, anywhere from 6 to 22% are pregnant. This means that there could potentially be almost 400,000 homeless and pregnant young women in this country.

For pregnant and parenting youth who are currently homeless or lack adequate housing options, there are various programs through local governments and private organizations that can provide housing and other services. Incorporating these programs into advocacy efforts is a great way to help address homelessness among adolescent parents in the United States today.

Beyond providing shelter, housing programs provide the opportunity to offer many complementary resources and services for youth. Healthy Teen Network and Child Trends developed two resources on the core components of supportive housing—one resource defining and detailing what the core components include and a related report on findings from the field based on a national survey, phone interviews, and case studies. Articulating core components based on what we know ensures success among pregnant and parenting teens utilizing supportive housing services that embrace them and helps set a standard for the field. The identification of the core components provides guidance for supportive housing programs to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting teens by providing the supports and resources needed to help them succeed. Two types of supportive housing for pregnant and parenting teens include:

Maternity Group Homes
The most widespread option for homeless young mothers or families is maternity group homes, also known as Second Chance Homes. Maternity group homes are adult-supervised, supporting group homes or apartment clusters for adolescent parents and their children who cannot live at home because of abuse, neglect, or other extenuating circumstances. These homes provide access to services such as child care, health care, transportation, counseling, education, job training, and employment assistance. Click here to find out if there is a maternity group home in your state, or call the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY.

Transitional Housing
Many states have laws establishing transitional housing for adolescents. These transitional housing programs range from emergency short-term housing that includes shelter and at least one meal a day to more comprehensive programs that provide rental assistance, career training, and educational assessment and referrals to educational programs.

Other programs that support pregnant and parenting teens secure adequate housing include:

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, in order to qualify for welfare assistance, young parents usually must be living with a parent or guardian. However, for young parents who have applied for TANF aid who have no parents, legal guardian, or other appropriate adult relative that allow the young parents to live with them, or in a case where a state agency has determined that it is not in the youth’s best interest to live with his or her parent or legal guardian, the state must provide or assist the child in locating a Second Chance Home, maternity home, or other appropriate adult-supervised living arrangement.

Extended Support for Foster Youth
Federal and state laws also provide assistance with housing and other necessities to young people who have “aged out” of foster care, i.e., people who have reached the age of majority in their state, which is usually 18 years old.

Young parents who are homeless or whose family home is no longer a safe or healthy option may also be involved with child protective services. For more information on advocating for these youth, see this fact sheet from Healthy Teen Network and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, Advocacy for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Foster Care.

Remember, most homeless pregnant and parenting teens are scared and just need someone to listen and advocate for their well-being. Being aware of the federal, state, and private programs put in place can largely help these teens and their children.

What are your success stories working with homeless pregnant or parenting teens?

When Can We Move Past the Whole Shame/Blame Thing?

Alexandra Eisler

Alexandra Eisler

The NYC Department of Public Health and Mental Hygiene wants us to get a message: Being a teen parent is hard. The message they’re sending is half right: being a teen parent has its challenges, but the hardest part of raising a child when you’re really young is that lots of adults think teens need to hear they’re doomed. They’ve been saying this for years just to make sure it sticks. And, at least in the case of the latest NYC public service announcements, they also want the children of teen parents to know they’re a burden.

Growing up, I didn’t know many teen mothers. The message I heard growing up was that getting pregnant meant disaster. It was the end of the world, and to make sure we all knew just how bad it was, if one of our classmates turned up pregnant, the gossip would start and everyone would know just what a failure she was. It was awful.

If you asked 17-year-old me if I thought these PSAs would stop teens from getting pregnant, I would have said yes….just as effective as the pictures of wart-ridden genitals in my biology class were at keeping kids from having sex. Right. Of course.

Years later, I learned about my half-brother who is fourteen years older than me and the child of my father and his high school girlfriend when they were 18 (our father left when he was born). I’ve been lucky to get to know him and to build a relationship with him. It’s been incredible to learn about each other and how the differences in our childhoods have shaped us (we share the same absent father, but my mother was 36 when she had me).

He has told me about where he lived growing up, the house his family lived in, and the strained relationships he saw as a child. He said that he heard the same shame-filled messages about how bad it was to come from a poor, single, teen mother, and he thought no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t escape his “trashy” family. He told me about his mother’s struggles and about her being sent away with him after he was born. He told me about how hard he had to fight to build a life he could feel good about.

As an adult, I know that messages of hopelessness won’t prevent pregnancy. What they will do is set young parents up for not only the challenges of raising a child but to do so believing the world wants to see them fail. When I think about my brother, I see a man full of ingenuity and determination, and I feel angry he heard loud and clear that he was less than. I’m proud of how much he has accomplished and the family he is now raising, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Our words and actions shape the lives around us. We have a responsibility to educate one another about what it means to make choices–in this case, choices about raising a family. With that responsibility is the power to either punish or support those we care about. Like the wart-ridden genitals of my biology class, using shame and fear defeat themselves, giving way to all kinds of unintended consequences. Be careful what you say, someone is listening.

How do you work with teen parents to combat these kinds of shaming messages?

Alexandra Eisler is the Training and TA Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.

Remembering C. Everett Koop

CEverettKoopFormer U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a pediatric surgeon turned public health advocate, died Monday at the age of 96.

Koop was best known for his work around HIV/AIDS. Koop became surgeon general the year the AIDS pandemic began and played a fundamental role in educating Americans about the disease. In 1988, he wrote a brochure about the disease that was sent to 107 million households in the United States. The report discussed the way AIDS spread, the ways it did not spread, and how people could protect themselves. The report advocated condom use for the sexually active and sex education for schoolchildren. When Koop left his post as surgeon general in 1989, AIDS was a top research and educational priority and access to abortion remained largely intact.

“When I was getting my MPH, I participated in a student review of a PSA on using condoms to prevent HIV developed by Dr. Koop,” remembers Healthy Teen Network President/CEO Pat Paluzzi. “I have never forgotten that PSA for its humorous approach and the hysterical moment when Dr. Koop appeared in the bedroom of a couple about to have sex to remind us all when we sleep with one person, we sleep with all of their partners. He was my hero from that moment on. The field could use more of what he brought to the conversation-promoting good science even if it goes against our personal beliefs and using humor to get results. I miss him already.”

Prior to his tenure as surgeon general, Koop was surgeon-in-chief for more than 30 years at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

What do you think will be Dr. Koop’s most lasting legacy? 

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