New Zealand has the second highest rate of teenage births among developed countries, after the United States, and a University of Canterbury (UC) researcher has found young parents need access to respectful, one-stop, wrap-around support services.
UC education researcher Dr Jenny Hindin-Miller says access to nurturing and responsive education, quality early childhood education for their children and support with transport are key elements in helping New Zealand’s teenage mothers to create better futures for themselves and their children.
``Ongoing access to education is the most practical and constructive way to really help improve the lives and circumstances of young parents and their children. Twenty dedicated teen parent schools around the country are working to meet the many needs of teenage parents.
``In the year to March 2011, 4374 babies were born to New Zealand teenage mothers. The rates have not increased since the 1980s and are significantly lower than their peak in the 1970s because of improvements in contraceptive technologies, as well as increased access to abortion. Two thirds of the 4734 births were to mothers aged 18 and 19.
``Young parents need extra support because they are often socially isolated, financially disadvantaged and lacking in support networks.
"The young women whom I interviewed commonly faced issues of social stigma and prejudice which makes it difficult for them to access appropriate services and support , and contributes to their isolation,’’ Dr Hindin-Miller says.
Networks including midwives and Plunket, income support workers, education and health services and parenting support are needed, as well as appropriate training for frontline staff and professionals in how to work respectfully and non-judgementally with teenage parents.
``Because of the increased age (around 30 years) of first time parents in New Zealand, teenage parents are often viewed as being too young to parent well, despite many of them becoming very good parents.
``Negative attitudes are unhelpful and often inaccurate. Many schools would prefer young pregnant students to leave because it is just too difficult to meet their educational and other needs. Some school authorities still regard them as a bad influence on other students. Other schools are very helpful in referring their pregnant teens to teen parent units set up specifically to cater to their needs.
``My findings showed that the young teen mothers I interviewed who had attended a teen parent school were mostly successful educationally and in other aspects of their lives which are valued in our society, such as careers and home ownership. In fact their life trajectories appeared not to have been delayed or disadvantaged by becoming parents early.
``They strongly believed that their own lives had been greatly enriched and enhanced by becoming parents and returning to education. They attributed this to a number of things.
``For some their pre-parenting lives had been characterised by high levels of risk-taking, and some of these young women made significant lifestyle changes because they were going to become parents. Almost all had disliked secondary school. Their often outstanding educational achievements at the Teen Parent School, and in tertiary education after leaving the school, had transformed their lives.’’