How to Support Pregnant and Parenting Teens: Ideas from the Field

BlogFeb 5 2013

Although one out of every ten young women in the United States gives birth before the age of 20,[i] little is known about “best practices” for serving the needs of this vulnerable population. The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF), an initiative by the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides competitive grant funding to state and tribal organizations serving pregnant and parenting teens.[ii]  Child Trends was honored to support OAH earlier in 2012 in convening a panel of experts to discuss strategies and gaps in the field of providing supports for pregnant and parenting teens.  The experts were tasked with answering the question of “what works” when it comes to serving this population as well as identifying the challenges and opportunities in the field.   Some key implications from the experts were summarized in a short report, Promising Strategies and Existing Gaps in Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Teens.

It is worth highlighting several observations. Specifically:

  • Pregnant and parenting teens are not a one-size-fits-all population.  Providers must strive to meet their needs in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings. This may mean utilizing innovative approaches to communicating with these young people (such as using social media) and meeting them where they already are (such as pediatrician offices or community centers).
  • Pregnant and parenting teens have needs that extend beyond those that directly pertain to pregnancy or childbearing.  Supporting this population means offering integrative services and referrals that address the multi-dimensional needs of this vulnerable population.  This is especially important when it comes to addressing education and job preparation and building and supporting healthy family relationships.
  • When serving pregnant and parenting teens, youth-provider relationships matter.  Promoting strong partnerships between the providers and the pregnant and parenting teens, emphasizing teen engagement and buy-in, utilizing highly skilled and adaptable professionals, and offering warm and safe environments are all essential components of providing services to these teens and young people.
  • Programs that serve pregnant and parenting teens should emphasize evaluation and replicability. In order to better understand and serve this population, there is a need to document, evaluate, and replicate promising and emerging programs.  Related to this, providers should focus attention on setting clear and reasonable program goals, drawing from theoretical and research bases, and monitoring program performance.
  • Traditional youth programs in traditional settings may not be the most effective way to reach pregnant and parenting teens. Many pregnant and parenting teens feel disengaged, disconnected, and dissimilar to their peers and to “mainstream society,” as a whole.  As such, applying traditional youth programs in traditional youth settings (such as schools) may not be effective ways to reach or support these teens.   By highlighting practical approaches to serving pregnant and parenting teens that are relevant to practitioners, researchers and evaluators, providers, and policy-makers, alike, this report offers important insights, and is an important resource for all stakeholders in the field of teen pregnancy and teen pregnancy prevention.

For more information about the experts (who included physicians, university faculty, medical directors, psychologists, researchers, Federal staff, and directors of programs and organizations serving pregnant and parenting teens) and panel findings click here.