Baby and me

Parenthesis guides teen mothers toward healthy parenthood

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When Kathy Kern of Parenthesis Parent-Child Center recently pow-wowed with peers to share the bad news, she was disheartened.

For the first time in 14 years, she says, teen pregnancy rates have risen nationwide, and they are rising at her agency, too.

"Our averages are up from about 10 to 12 teen moms a week to 14 to 16 girls in our Parenteen program," says Kern, the executive director at Parenthesis. "That seems like a little, but for our program it is significant."

The long-standing and voluntary program has consistently offered support groups and regular, in-home visitations to help teen moms and their children, says Ann Puccetti, the agency's Family Wrap Specialist, who oversees the in-home program.

For 2½ hours every week, young mothers, their children and social workers meet for a free family meal and various educational activities, such as creative game-playing and field trips. Some Wednesday evenings, the organizers will stage on-site rap sessions with experts, including midwives from the nonprofit organization PCC Community Wellness Center, who come to discuss contraception methods and provide prenatal and postnatal advice for girls who are currently pregnant.

Support for teen moms

In response to a rise in homeless teenage mothers in the area, social workers are collaborating with West Suburban PADS to link them with the shelter's transitional housing program. Referrals to other social service agencies, as needed, are also provided.

"For a lot of our girls, even if they know birth control exists, they have no idea how to access it," Puccetti says. "Some of them do not have an adult they can talk to at home, and it is a really hard thing to talk about with a mom. Even if she has opened that door, most teens are very reluctant to walk though it."

Additionally, education, support and services are available from Planned Parenthood, which is across the border in Chicago, says Peggy Wright, a social worker with Parenthesis.

"We have found that many of our teenage girls don't realize that they can obtain information and assistance without getting their parent's permission," she says.

Another issue, says Puccetti, is camaraderie. Even if the new teen mother has a close girlfriend, if that girl is not a parent at age 15, 16 or 17, she probably isn't on the same page, says Puccetti. So the girls may feel alone as first-time parents.

Some nights after a group field trip, Melissa Robinson, 19, will watch her son, Zachary, 2, busily cavorting about the playground behind Wonder Works children's museum or another fun venue. Her support team, Wright and Puccetti, laugh and play with her toddler while she takes advantage of a quick respite before the cab arrives to take her home.

"I came to Parenthesis three months after I had had Zachary," says Robinson, an Oak Park resident who has since graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. "Because of Parenteen, I now know how to multitask, and I am way more responsible than I was at age 16. It has helped me become a good mom and a better person."

-Deb Quantock McCarey

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