• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 21st November, 2007

Turning the tide in the lives of teen mothers

It’s a decision that can greatly diminish a young woman’s prospects. Teenagers who decide to have children are more likely to do badly at school and to earn less at work than those who wait. And once they start down this road, it’s difficult to change direction or to turn back. The effects of programs designed to increase teen mothers' self-sufficiency and prevent additional pregnancies have been disappointing, according to the authors of a recent article in Children and Youth Services Review.James R. McDonell and his colleagues at the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University, South Carolina, suggest that teen parenting programs have traditionally taken simplistic approaches, such as talking to girls about the importance of staying in school and helping them to secure health care. By contrast, a program called “Pathways Teen Mother Support Project” not only provides girls with support from a case worker, but it also helps to marshal support from participants’ families and peers. For example, project staff often help families to write plans which specify how various family members will support a young mother by providing childcare, transportation, homework assistance or financial support. Pathways also aims to foster the social skills and confidence girls need to accomplish their goals and, if necessary, to get their lives back on track.McDonell's team assessed the impact of Pathways by randomized controlled trial. They recruited pregnant teens in South Carolina and compared 107 who were assigned to take part in the program to the progress of 90 more who received other services available in their communities. After two years, Pathways participants were doing much better than their counterparts. They had fewer pregnancies, performed better academically, graduated from high school at higher rates, had lower marijuana use, were less impulsive, improved their problem solving beliefs, and obtained more social support, especially from family members.If future studies produce findings as promising and if the effects of Pathways persist after the program has ended, then it could provide part of the elusive answer to the question of how to turn the tide in teen mother’s lives.Summary of “Pathways Teen Mother Support Project: Longitudinal findings” by James R. McDonell, Susan P. Limber and Jennifer Connor-Godbey in Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 29, Issue 7, Pages 823-972 (July 2007), pp840-855.

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