Live and learn

How can teenage parents, faced with the responsibility of
looking after a new baby, coping with unfamiliar household chores
and the churning emotions of adolescence, be encouraged to
participate in education, training or employment?

It is a question to which the government has been trying to find
an answer. The Social Exclusion Unit’s report on teenage pregnancy,
published in 1999, set out a 10-year national strategy to tackle
the causes and consequences of teenage pregnancy. Its key goals are
to halve the under-18 conception rate by 2010 and to increase the
participation of 16- to 19-year-old mothers in employment,
education or training to 60 per cent.

Teenage mothers face many obstacles in continuing their
education or returning to it, but top of the list is often the
thought of leaving their child and the extreme difficulty of
meeting the cost of child care. Many lack confidence and are
isolated from other members of their family and their peer group.
Their problems are often compounded by housing and financial

Among the initiatives aimed at helping them with these problems
are Sure Start Plus programmes which provide intensive support to
pregnant teenagers and teenage parents under 18 (including
fathers); Connexions; and the Care to Learn initiative’s financial
support for child care so teenage parents under 19 can continue in,
or return to, learning or training.

Sure Start Plus, launched in April 2001, is being piloted in 20
sites with high rates of teenage pregnancy over a five-year period
in England. The various projects offer practical help with issues
such as breast-feeding, cooking on a budget, managing money,
relationships, building confidence and help in stopping smoking.
Connexions, which provides personal advisers to ensure that teenage
parents have support and someone with an overview of their
ambitions and needs, collaborates closely with Sure Start.

Feedback from the pilots reveals a variety of approaches to
motivating young mothers to return to learning. Greater
Merseyside’s Young Mums To Be course, designed to tackle this
reluctance, is a 12-week training programme equivalent to NVQ level
1 that covers areas from antenatal care to basic skills. In Tyne
and Wear, an outreach group for young parents gives them access to
locally based training courses.

Eighteen-year-old Adele, from Bedfordshire, has a one-year-old
daughter and was 30 weeks pregnant when she started work-based
learning in October 2002. Her personal adviser recommended the
Young Mums To Be course, but Adele was initially reluctant. She
says: “I was given a lot of support because at first I didn’t want
to leave my child with a stranger. I visited a few registered
childminders and chose one I was really happy with. I gained a lot
from the course and would not have been able to access the training
without my child care being paid.”

One Sure Start Plus adviser reported working very closely with
two 16-year-old parents where there were concerns about domestic
violence and the mother’s ability to parent the unborn baby. The
child was placed on the at-risk register at birth. The adviser
helped them both to find appropriate housing, enrol on college
courses and to sort out child care and benefit arrangements. The
baby was subsequently removed from the register as social services
were pleased with the baby’s progress and happy about the way the
couple had settled into their new roles. Both parents have now
volunteered as Sure Start Plus “activists” and the young mother is
particularly keen to train as a mentor for other young women,
especially in breastfeeding, says the report.

  • Making a Difference: Emerging Practice, Connexions and Teenage


  • The proportion of teenage mothers in education, employment or
    training (EET) rose from 23 per cent in 1997-9 to 30 per cent in
  • EET participation rates are 48 per cent in Sure Start Plus
    pilot areas, where teenage parents are given a dedicated personal
  • Child care costs of up to £5,125 per child per year are
    available for parents under 19, paid direct to Ofsted-registered
    child care providers through the Care to Learn scheme.
  • Supported accommodation can be provided for lone parents aged
    16 and 17 who cannot live with their own parents or partner,
    typically through the Supporting People programme.

Useful Sites:


Care to Learn is an organisation specialising in helping teenage
parents with the cost of childcare so they can continue

To find out if you are eligible for an Education Maintenance
Allowance go to

Connexions is a guidance and support service for 13-19 year olds
that aims to keep young people engaged in effective learning and
subsumes the responsibilities of the former Careers Services

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