Second Chance Homes: Providing Services for Teenage Parents and Their Children
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
The difficult life circumstances of most teenage mothers and their children have intensified interest in finding ways to support young mothers in their efforts to become self-sufficient, delay subsequent childbearing, and promote awareness of child development early in their children’s lives in order to break the cycle of poverty and reliance on welfare. One innovative service delivery option available is the establishment of "Second Chance Homes" for teenage mothers and their children. Second Chance Homes offer stable housing and other supportive services to teenage mothers, with the intent of providing teens with the skills and knowledge necessary to become more effective parents and lead productive, independent lives.
The Difficult Life Circumstances Facing Teen Parents and Their Children
Trends in Teen Births
In recent years there have been significant declines in both teenage pregnancy and birth rates, with teen pregnancy rates reaching their lowest level since statistics have been collected. While this is good news, there are still far too many teens having children before they are ready. In fact, nearly 500,000 teenage girls become parents each year. Roughly 40 percent of these teenage parents are under age 18; more than three-fourths are unmarried; and the majority of parenting teens do not have the economic or social resources in place to provide for themselves or their children. Moreover, teenage mothers are more likely to have additional children in quick succession, limiting their life options even further than having only one child. Although the number of repeat births to teenage girls also has declined since 1991, there are still over 100,000 second or higher order births to teenagers annually.
A large number of teenage mothers are poor. Studies estimate that as many as 60 percent of teenage mothers are living below the poverty linfe, and as many as 80 percent rely on welfare for support for at least some portion of time following a teen birth. Earlier research indicates that women who gave birth as teens relied on public assistance for support for substantially longer periods of time than other families. The impoverished circumstances of teenage mothers are exacerbated by the fact that many have limited academic skills, have dropped out of high school, and come from backgrounds with few role models or opportunities for improving their livelihoods.
Many teenage mothers have a difficult time juggling the dual roles of parent and teen. These responsibilities are often undertaken in the context of stressful environments, many of which are characterized by poverty, poor housing, domestic violence, abuse, and unsafe neighborhoods. Research has shown that a large percentage of teenage mothers have experienced sexual and/or physical abuse, often by a household member. These teenage mothers face an even greater risk of repeat pregnancy and other health problems.
Negative Outcomes for the Children of Teen Mothers
The long-term, negative consequences of teenage childbearing affect both parent and child. Both are likely to face poverty, low levels of educational attainment, and long-term dependence on public assistance. Concerns about the negative effects of teenage childbearing on both the mother and her child(ren) have become more salient. Research indicates that children of teenage mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and to be of low birth weight than children born to women who are older. Compared to children born to older women, children of adolescent mothers, in general, do not do as well in school, have higher reported incidences of abuse and neglect, have higher rates of foster care placement, and are more apt to run away from home. As these children get older, the boys are 2.7 times more likely to be involved in criminal behavior, and the girls are 33 percent more likely to become teenage mothers themselves, increasing the likelihood that they will rely on public assistance.