Worth the heartache?

Most people agree that early, unplanned pregnancies are a “bad
thing”. Yet above that benchmark agreement, there is an astonishing
amount of ill-tempered disagreement about exactly what is happening
and who is responsible.

The teenage pregnancy unit (TPU) was set up in 2000 following a
report by the Social Exclusion Unit in 1999. The report made 30 key
recommendations which the teenage pregnancy strategy puts into
practice. This strategy has two core targets: first, to halve the
UK’s level of teenage pregnancies – one of the highest in Europe –
by 2010, and second, to increase by 60 per cent the number of
teenage mothers in education, training or work by the same

Judging by the widespread press coverage at the beginning of this
year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that both the unit and its
strategy have so far failed. In March 2004, the TPU published an
interim report which suggested that three years of modest falls in
teenage pregnancy rates had been abruptly halted and turned into a
small increase of around 0.7 per cent. That hid a continuing
downward trend – about 80 per cent of areas were still reporting
reductions. But a few startling increases (for instance Oxfordshire
up by 7.3 per cent, Cornwall by 16.4 per cent, and Torquay by 22.4
per cent) managed to skew an otherwise generally positive

Shortly afterwards, the family values charity Family and Youth
Concern pointed out that teenage pregnancy rates were rising
fastest in those areas with targeted services and allocated money.
One of these is Cornwall where additional flexibilities are
available to teenage parents, such as maternity leave from schools
and bonuses to return to education after the birth.

Family and Youth Concern argue that the TPU and its strategy are
compounding the teenage pregnancy problem by treating people as
young as 10 as “sexual beings” and by providing sex education,
confidential contraception and non-judgemental advice. It added
that the TPU’s strategy was normalising sexual behaviour at an
early age, when it should promote abstinence.

This is a deeply controversial view. Roger Ingham is a member of
the TPU’s advisory group, and director of the Centre for Sexual
Health Research at the University of Southampton. He points to
evidence from the Netherlands and Sweden that a more open,
accepting attitude to teenage sex and relationships has
dramatically reduced the number of teenagers who are sexually
active, and argues that the FYC’s stance is misguided and
potentially damaging.

“It’s opportunistic and based in religious belief, rather than
research. The best research shows that abstinence programmes don’t
work. Nine out of 10 young people who sign an abstinence pledge
will break it.

“What the research suggests does work is informing young people,
and offering user-friendly, non-judgemental and approachable sexual
health services. The strategy will take time but there is no doubt
that we are doing the right things.”

Hannah Taylor:
‘I didn’t want my kids to go through what I did’

Hannah Taylor had her first child, Bradley, at 16 and her second,
Callum, at 20. She had been going out with her boyfriend Paul, whom
she had known for three years, for a few months when she became
pregnant by accident. They didn’t use contraception. “At the time
people said condoms make sex rubbish,” says Hannah.

Her mother Juliet took her to a Brook advisory clinic for a
pregnancy test: “I was nervous and my mum had her head in her
hands. It was quiet in the waiting room and I was trying to
reassure her it would be alright.”

When the test result was positive Hannah says her heart stopped and
her stomach sank. Doctors decided to monitor Hannah closely because
she had been born without a pulmonary heart valve and had
corrective surgery as a child. “I would have moved heaven and earth
not to have terminated the baby,” she says.

Despite the initial shock Hannah, Paul and their families were
happy with her pregnancy. Juliet had Hannah when she was 19, and
she and stepfather Pete supported the decision to go ahead. Hannah
describes her natural father as “a player” who left when she was
10. “I didn’t want my kids to go through what I did,” she says.
“Paul and me understand each other because of our backgrounds and
what we want for our kids.”

Hannah stayed at school to take her GCSEs but admits she did not
care about her results and failed to get good grades: “I felt I had
more to worry about. Looking back I wish I had done better.” Other
girls at Hannah’s school had been pregnant so no one was shocked by
her news. She says her school’s sex education was laughable: “I
remember a woman coming in and putting a condom on this thick thing
and we all made a joke of it. It would have helped to hear a real
girl’s story about when she got pregnant.”

She got engaged to Paul on her 18th birthday and last year they
married. Unbeknown to them she was already pregnant with Callum.
The family now live in their own flat in Southampton and Hannah,
now 21, knows lots of single mothers: “I have a really nice mum and
a supportive mother-in-law. I’m lucky Paul stuck around and was a
decent bloke.”

Paul Taylor:
‘I want my kids to love and respect me’

Paul dropped his mobile phone in shock when Hannah told him she was
pregnant. He was 18. He never thought it would happen to them: “I
panicked. My first thoughts were for Hannah. I was worried she
would be annoyed it had happened.”

It never occurred to him to ask Hannah to have an abortion because
he does not think that can be justified unless the mother’s life is
at risk. His mother also encouraged him to face his
responsibilities. “She said I’d better stand by Hannah, look after
her and not run away.”

Paul was used to caring for children, as he is the oldest of four
and always helped his mother out. His natural father left when he
was three and his stepfather when he was eight. “I didn’t have a
real relationship with my dad and I don’t want to be like that with
my kids,” he says. “I want my kids to love and respect me.”

When Hannah first gave birth Paul describes it as “one of the best
things that happened in my life”. Before Bradley was born he had
not thought how a child would change his life but “it hit home when
he arrived. I felt like life wasn’t going to be the same

The disadvantage of being a parent so young is not being able to
see friends very often or having time to yourself, he says.
However, he says he and Hannah will still be young enough to have a
life after their children leave home.

Although he received sex education at middle school when 11, Paul
believes he was too young to appreciate it. “We got enough
information when I was younger but I didn’t pay attention to it. It
was embarrassing and it may have been easier if we’d been 14 or 15
and more interested.”

Now training to be an electrician, Paul says he has matured a lot
since becoming a father: “I’m a full-time family man now and I
work. Before that I was just hanging around with my mates on the

Amanda Falk:
‘I decided to have an abortion’

Amanda Falk discovered she was pregnant at the age of 16, a few
months before she was due to take her GCSEs. She opted to have an
abortion. Now 18, she lives in Bristol with her fianc’, and is
working as a care assistant in a residential home for older

Amanda says: “I was going out with this boy I really fancied, about
the same age as me. We hadn’t been going out long, only about two
months, when I found out I was pregnant. At first he was really
supportive. He came to the clinic with me when I had the pregnancy
test and when it was positive he was OK about it. But then after a
few days he started saying horrible things about me. He threatened
to beat me up. But I had a support worker who talked to him for me
and after that he left me alone.”

She doesn’t think there was anything that would have stopped her
from having sex at a young age. “I had loads of sex education, in
primary and secondary school. I did know about contraception, but
when it came to the heat of the moment we didn’t use any. We just
sort of got carried away.

“I remember feeling absolutely gutted when I got the result. I just
burst into tears. It was a very confusing time. I told a couple of
friends, but I didn’t tell my mum because I wanted to sort out my
own mess. She knows now and she was a bit hurt that I didn’t tell

“I decided to have an abortion because I was going to college in
September. I could have kept the baby and still gone to college,
but money would have been a problem. It was a bit difficult to
organise the abortion without my mum knowing, but my friends came
with me. Afterwards I felt mixed up and sad. I’d been pregnant for
all this time and when I came out of hospital I looked down at
myself and thought, ‘Did I really do that?’ But I felt relieved
too, because I’d got my teenage life back.

“If someone else was in that position, I’d tell them to think
really hard about what they want to do, what they want to achieve,
and the consequences of having a baby. A baby is nice to have, but
there will be plenty of other times.”

The Teenage Pregnancy Unit

1. Started life within the Department of Health. Has recently
moved to the Department for Education and Skills with most other
children’s services.

2. There is a network of teenage pregnancy co-ordinators in almost
every local authority area. They report to a network of regional
co-ordinators, who are linked to the regional local government

3. Co-ordinators put in bids every year for funding, targeted at
services for particular local priorities. The bids go to the
regional co-ordinator, and are assessed and money allocated on the
strength of their plans. Funding goes through local

4. A partnership board has been set up in each local authority
area, consisting of a variety of senior people from health,
education, social services and agencies such as Sure Start and

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