The media image of teenage pregnancy – that rates are soaring; that teens are getting pregnant to try and play the system; that they then make bad parents – is far from the truth.
For example: according to a recent MORI poll, the British public think teenage pregnancies are far more common than they actually are. The Independent reports that:
Teen pregnancy is thought to be 25 times higher than the official estimates: 15 per cent of of girls under 16 are thought to become pregnant every year, when official figures say the amount is closer to 0.6 per cent.
But these myths just makes things even more difficult for those who find themselves in this situation and have to deal with it.
At Gateway, Pregnancy Outreach Worker Caroline works exclusively with teenagers. She says the mums-to-be that she works with battle against these kinds of misconceptions every day.
“People think that teenagers get pregnant on purpose, so that they can get a house or extra benefits. But that’s just not true. For the girls I work with, pregnancy is usually an accident and it can be a big shock for the whole family.”
Fifteen year old Megan is a good example of a teenager who challenges these perceptions. Like many teenagers who become pregnant, she lives at home with her family and intends to stay there. So in terms of benefits she’ll get Healthy Start vouchers, which concentrate on enabling her to feed her baby, but any state support goes to her parents – and that’s only if they’re entitled to it. If they’re working, they’re entitled to very little.
Caroline says that the biggest myth her clients face is that, simply because they’re young, they’re going to be a bad mum. But there’s no reason that that should be the case. Megan’s got the makings of a responsible parent. At 15 she’s already knowledgeable and interested in what will be good for her baby.
“As well as all the worries that every pregnant woman has, teenagers are also up against the constant assumption that they’re going to be a bad mum,” says Caroline. “But Megan’s really keen to do what’s best. So a big part of my work with her, and the other teens I see, is helping to build her confidence. Armed with the right information, she can go on to make good decisions for her and her baby.”
In this video, Megan talks about how she’s preparing for labour and life with baby.
What Megan does acknowledge is that she needs support, reassurance and access to information – and Gateway, along with a couple of other services across the city – are providing that. As for the cost, Caroline’s support to date works out to be well under £100; if it plays a part in ensuring that Megan can give her baby a good start, then it demonstrates good value for money.
In many ways, Caroline’s support is very similar to the work that all our POWs do, but she often finds she has to approach things slightly differently.
“I think I have to offer quite intense support,” she says. “These girls are still at school, where they’re used to being taught, but that means they’re taking in a lot of information at once. I have to work out the best way to make sure it all sinks in. I do a lot of role playing, a lot of visual stuff, and I repeat the same things in different ways. I have to try and keep it interesting without being overwhelming.”
Caroline’s support doesn’t just cover preparation for the birth. She is there with a non-judgmental ear when teens need to talk, and she also gives a lot of practical help and support with the life skills that most young people won’t yet have had much experience with, like budgeting.
Family dynamics are important, too. “Sometimes they tell me things that it would be difficult to talk to their parents about,” says Caroline. “It can be a stressful time, so it’s often better for them to speak to me impartially than to risk conflict, however well-meaning, at home.” Caroline works with the whole family – the parents, too, have her number to talk things through if they want to.
The support Caroline gives is complemented by that from other agencies. “The FNP (Family Nurse Partnership) is great,” says Caroline. “It’s a structured educational programme for 16-19 year olds, with support from a Family Nurse until the child is two. Then Megan has a specialist Teen Midwife. We work really closely; they cover the clinical side of things and we focus on the social issues. That way we’ve got it all covered.”
Working together means that, once Caroline steps out, the client is fully integrated into services that will support her going forward.
To find out more about the benefits available to teenage mums, have a look at this benefits calculator from Gingerbread.
It is so important for the public to realize that the popular media view of teen mums as irresponsible is not generally the case. This young woman is clearly taking things very seriously and wants to do the best for her baby. Well done to her for speaking about it and to Caroline for supporting her to achieve this.