Supporting Expectant and Parenting High School Students
While there are some successful efforts across the nation and Indiana to lower the teen pregnancy rate, the problem of unexpected teenage pregnancy continues. The majority of these teens want to be good parents and provide financially for their children while graduating from high school and perhaps going to college. However, their situation is complicated, many of these students coming from low-income backgrounds, and many fail to achieve their educational goals.
A National Longitudinal Survey of Youth showed that just over half of young mothers who had children before the age of 20 earned their high school diplomas by the age of 22. In comparison, by that same age, nearly 90 percent of their peers, who did not have children as teenagers, earned their diplomas. The lack of a high school diploma or its equivalent increases the likelihood that many teen mothers and their children will face a life of poverty.
In Indiana, more than 6,000 high school students dropped out of school during the 2011-2012 school year. Data from another national study found that 1 in 4 high school students dropped out of school because of their parenting responsibilities.This means 1,600 Indiana high school students each year, have their education interrupted due to teen parenthood. This interruption creates challenges for a young mother to earn a high school diploma, go on to college, or receive some type of post-secondary educational training. Sadly, the educational interruption for the young father, not only prevents him from receiving any college/career training, but may also increase his chance in becoming involved with the criminal justice system because of his financial and employment challenges.
As the cycle continues, the struggles faced by teen mothers and fathers are often passed on to the next generation. Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers than girls born to older moms. Sons born to teens have a greater chance of spending time in jail. Furthermore, children born to teen parents struggle both socially and academically as compared to their peers with older parents.
So why do we have a high dropout rates among expectant and parenting students?
- Many feel challenged in managing their schoolwork with their parenting responsibilities.
- Some lack a supportive family and/or partner that encourage high school completion.
- Access to affordable, quality childcare, transportation, housing and other critical services are hampered due to local and state policies.
- Some face discrimination from teachers, coaches, or school administrators, including policies and practices that prevent them from succeeding.
As the pressure of these obstacles build, the expectant or parenting student begins to miss school. There is a clear relationship between missing school and dropping out of school because they cannot keep up with the school work. Yet, many teen parents who have dropped out believed they could have graduated if their schools had offered the support systems they needed to be successful.
To address the needs in Marion County, the Future Promises Program serves expectant and parenting teens in four select public high schools with much success in keeping the young mothers and fathers in high school and graduating. Using a case manager housed at the school, this school/community collaborative model program provides multi-year comprehensive educational and support services. Interventions, that are flexible, individualized, nurturing and consistent, focus on identifying and combatting barriers in participants’ school, homes, health, or social lives that affect their ability to develop the foundation that leads to self-sufficiency.
But Marion County’s Future Promises Program isn’t enough to provide the specialized services and support needed by all of Indiana’s expectant and parenting students. It is recommended that the state provides resources to the Department of Education for professional development and technical assistance to school districts across the state to promote graduation and college/career readiness for expectant and parenting students. All efforts should be focused on keeping the young mothers and fathers attending school. When students turn to schools or alternative programs, they lose the face-to-face interaction and human resources for help that school provides; they become isolated from their peers and caring adults.
Dropout prevention programs and graduation coach models should offer the specialized resources needed by these students. Legislation for rigorous program evaluation with the schools collecting, tracking and reporting the academic progress of expectant and parenting students to see how efforts, to keep these students in school have succeeded. Since child care is a major reason for missing school and subsequently dropping out, increased funding is needed to make quality and affordable childcare accessible to student parents by classifying their children as “special needs” which would elevate the ranking of their children receiving childcare funding and avoid a six to twelve month waiting period.
Recommendations to schools would include:
- Providing flexible leave options and mechanisms for making up missed work;
- Provide child care, transportation and homebound tutoring/education if extended medical leave is indicated;
- Excuse absences related to the illness of a student’s child;
- Provide added guidance and case management to help students develop short and long term educational goals, apply for public benefits and access available health and other social services in the community;
- Offer life skill classes that provide information on parenting as well as comprehensive and medically accurate information on secondary pregnancy prevention;
- Track data on student outcomes
With supportive policies, strong support network systems, and a comprehensive array of resources, as offered by the Future Promises Program, many of the 1,600 students who are parents would not have their education interrupted and can become effective parents as they work towards becoming self-sufficient and contributing adults to our society.
Dr. Wanda Spann Roddy, R.N. has actively worked in the area of maternal/child health for nearly 35 years as a clinician, administrator, educator and advocate. She currently is employed by Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, where she is the founder and director of the national award winning Future Promises Program.
Dr. Spann Roddy has won many local and national awards for her work with pregnant and parenting students and has made presentations, both locally and nationally on her support for their high school graduation. She is currently serving on the board of directors of the national Healthy Teen Network organization and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, located in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Spann Roddy earned her bachelor’s degree from DePauw University located in Greencastle, Indiana and her masters and doctorate from Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis.