Support for teenage parents is improving but involving young
fathers remains a challenge, writes Gill Frances.
“I was ignored and made to feel like the second parent. Even the
shop is called Mothercare – where’s the Fathercare?” Ryan,
This quote, taken from a recent Teenage Pregnancy Unit
booklet,1 illustrates a major obstacle to the drive to
help teenage parents. How can service providers ensure that young
fathers have an active role in bringing up their children?
This is one of the challenges outlined in the second annual
report of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on Teenage
Pregnancy,2 published this summer. Set up to monitor the
government’s performance on reducing teenage conceptions and
tackling the social exclusion of young parents the IAG has welcomed
the progress made over the past year, particularly with regard to
support for parents and their families.
Supporting the role of teenage fathers, however, remains a
difficult area. Not enough is known about how to maximise young
fathers’ potential. The Trust for the Study of Adolescence
has been commissioned by the Home Office to develop and evaluate an
approach to working with vulnerable young fathers. It is vital that
the findings from this study are used to develop an effective model
that can be used across government and developed by local
colleagues working in the statutory and voluntary sectors.
Housing for teenage parents is another challenge highlighted by
the IAG report. A great deal of progress has already been made; the
government has made a commitment to providing suitable
accommodation to all lone parents under 18 who cannot live with
their parents or partners. More providers are coming up with
innovative housing solutions, incorporating advice on training,
education and employment. Ekaya Housing Association, for example,
provides floating support to teenage mothers and their babies in
the London Boroughs of Southwark, Greenwich and Wandsworth. One
young mother interviewed by the Independent Advisory Group said
that her floating support worker had helped her get back into
college, and had also secured a nursery place for her son.
However, housing providers must be careful to avoid a “one-size
fits all” approach. Some young parents may welcome the opportunity
to live in a shared hostel, but those who have grown up in
residential care may wish to live more independently, while still
being able to access support.
There has been progress on child care, although again
flexibility is a key issue. One teenage mother who gave evidence to
the IAG said that she could get child care if she visited her local
project for young parents, but not if she went to college. As a
result, she had to give up her further education.
Other young parents are finding that funding is available for
child care so long as the money is spent on a nursery, but would
prefer to use that money to reimburse a relative or close friend to
look after their child. The government has made a welcome
commitment to providing up to £5,000 for child care over two
years for young people aged over 16 in training or at school, and
this will also be piloted to under-16 year olds from April 2004.
The next step is ensuring they are given the choice to spend that
money according to their needs.
Overall, support for young parents is getting better. In many
areas, providers are joining up to deliver a holistic service to
young people, incorporating health support, child care, training
and education. Provision remains patchy, however. Too many parents
face obstacles in returning to education and employment, accessing
adequate and affordable child care, and finding suitable housing.
If anything, the picture is worse in areas with low teenage
pregnancy rates, where young parents can easily slip through the
net because of the lack of support services. There is also alarming
evidence that many young parents – mothers as well as fathers –
face discrimination on a daily basis, not only from the public but
also from the professionals working to support them.
There is plenty of good practice out there. The challenge for
the government is ensuring that this is built upon and extended
throughout the country.
Baby Fathers – New
Images of Teenage Fatherhood, Teenage Pregnancy Unit,
Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy – Annual Report 2002/2003,
Gill Frances is deputy chairperson of the Independent
Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy.