Tag: teenage pregnancy

Stopping the spiral

When you’re living precariously, from day to day, the smallest changes and delays have a much bigger effect than they would on someone with a solid support network and a safe, structured lifestyle.

scales-smWe find it particularly frustrating to hear when clients tell us about issues they’re facing that could have been avoided. Often, it’s down to a client leaving things late or not having the confidence or knowledge to assert themselves. But, equally as often, organisations put unnecessarily bureaucratic processes in place that can make matters considerably worse. Many times, a little consideration – some human understanding of a personal situation, or a small tweak to a process, could quickly make things better and stop things spiralling before they start.

Everyone’s situation is unique and there is usually good reason when things don’t run smoothly. But at Gateway we often find ourselves asking: why should a Pregnancy Outreach Worker’s intervention be necessary? Why does it always seem to take an advocate to step in before things can get moving?

Claire* is a vulnerable teenager who lives in temporary accommodation and has no immediate family. She’s pregnant by her ex-partner, who was violent towards her.

When Claire wanted to apply for Housing Benefit, she needed to show three months bank statements. She didn’t have a phone, so she couldn’t just call the bank and ask… but she also didn’t have the money to travel there in person. And the longer she left it, the further into debt she fell.

Seeing that Claire was at risk of eviction, her POW took her to the bank herself. There, Claire requested the relevant information, only to be told that her account had been closed, and that the statements would have to be posted out. It was only after the POW explained the urgency of the situation that the bank supplied printed statements for Claire to use. But why should we have had to step in?

Most people take a phone for granted. Claire has had to buy a phone – spending money that she really needed for food – in order to manage the basic things in her life. But having a phone doesn’t mean you have it easy – dealing with multiple organisations and agencies can mean long periods of time on hold, and that can quickly use up all the phone credit you have.

Claire’s claim for Housing Benefit eventually went in, but more than four weeks went by before she heard anything more about it. We chased up Claire’s Housing Benefit claim three times before finding out that it had been suspended as they awaited information from her landlord. It took another call from the POW – this time to the landlord, asking him to provide the evidence that the Housing Benefit department needed – before things got moving again.

All these issues create unmanageable stress for someone like Claire. She is already at a high risk and delays like this just make things impossibly difficult. During the time she was waiting for housing benefit, Claire phoned her POW, in desperation, to ask for food parcels – she had no means of buying food or even travelling to other food banks.

Last week, Claire said she is beginning to feel more in control. “I have been to St Basils and they are going to place me in a flat within a week. I feel so much calmer and happier away from my ex. Today you called Healthy Start vouchers and gave them my new address and sorted out my claim for Income Support. We spoke about what I need to get for the baby and you will help with trying to find donations for me. I’m glad I was able to tell you how I felt today.”

But the little things that most people take for granted will continue to be an issue for Claire. Her new flat is safe, but it’s unfurnished, so the POW is helping her to find basic household items from charities and donations. She’s still unable to get a bank account so, even if her life does begin to settle down and she finds she has money left after paying for food, gas and electric, she has no way of saving her cash. And – somewhat ridiculously – because Claire can’t have her benefits paid into an account, she has to spend vital pounds on travel each week just to pick it up.

Sometimes people just need help. It would be great if services could take that into account sometimes and just be a bit more human.

*Names have been changed.

Tackling the teenage pregnancy myths

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.

POWs get more mums to breast feed

19 year old Jess talking about why she wants to breast feed.

Our latest statistics show that 70% of our mums started breast feeding, compared to 68% across Birmingham.

Most people agree that breast feeding is the best start for any baby. They got all the nutrients they need, it helps give them a strong immune system. It’s so important that UNICEF’s ‘Baby Friendly’ initiative is promoting it around the world. And we always encourage our new mums to breastfeed. Some of them say they don’t want to, but we find that’s because they don’t know how good it is for their babies and how good it is for them.

Some mums simply aren’t confident about trying it, they say they won’t do it right, and sometimes they do find it a bit difficult, and don’t have enough support to get it established.

We visit mums before they give birth to let them know what to expect, and then once the baby’s arrived we visit them at home to answer any questions and help them with any problems.   We always encourage mums to give it a go and then support them so they keep going.