Simplistic solutions do not carry weight

Maura O’Brien, is a former youth and community worker.

Amy was 15 years old when she started coming to the youth club
where I was a full-time youth worker. Tall, blonde and attractive,
she had slept with some of the local gang. Her stroppy attitude
spelt trouble and trying to build a rapport was difficult for all
the youth workers.

As the product of a broken home, Amy felt rejected by her absent
father and was too much for her mother to handle. Bored with
school, playing truant at any chance, she was longing to be
accepted as an adult and to escape her difficult family life.

She started going out with Sean who, at 18, had problems staying
on the right side of the law. Shortly afterwards they announced
they were expecting a baby. Far from being panicked, Amy revelled
in the attention she received. Her parents had to notice her now.
The younger girls at the club were greatly impressed and the
workers were concerned for her welfare.

She blossomed with all the care given to her as a pregnant
school girl. The reality of her situation did not hit home until
the beautiful baby became a stubborn four-year-old. Just 20 now,
and with Sean in prison for robbery, Amy found herself living on
income support in a tiny high-rise flat.

What of her future? She is poorly educated, with no
qualifications. Caught in an unhealthy, destructive relationship,
she has become dependent on social security. The novelty of
motherhood has worn off and she realises with that unconditional
love comes a massive long-term responsibility. She has compounded
her problems rather than solved them, becoming yet another teenage
mother on a downward spiral of hopelessness.

I have often asked myself, was this how it was meant to be?
Could I and the other professionals involved have done more to help
her and others like her?

The issue of sex and teenagers is never out of the media for
long. Experts produce ‘solutions’ involving condoms and sex
education programmes, but such strategies are simplistic.

Statistically, Amy was a teenager at risk from the start, as
Britain has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the
developed world.

She had made up her mind to conceive because she believed a baby
would make her life better. Sex and motherhood were her passport to
adulthood. Given her low self-esteem and her need to be loved, it
is not surprising that she followed this path. All the condom
demonstrations in the world would not have changed her mind.

For young women like Amy, sex education programmes will not
succeed. Instead a more complicated and time-consuming process
might work. This would involve identifying and targeting those at
risk of using sex as a way of dealing with their problems.

Youth workers, teachers and social workers could then pool their
expertise to support those like Amy, giving them positive,
sustained attention. Building up low self-esteem to tackle life in
the present might make more troubled teenagers realise motherhood
is not a panacea. This might lead to fewer teenage pregnancies in
the future.

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