Being a pregnant teenager is fraught with difficulty: alongside the physical changes, social pressure and fear for what the future holds, it is also often the first time that a young mother-to-be will have had to deal with state benefits and services. Tania Jacobs found this out first hand when, as a pregnant 15-year-old in Camden, north London, she had to move out of the family home and find an alternative place to live.
To help people in similar situations to what she faced seven years ago, she has created a website for young parents that aims to be a one-stop shop of information.
“The main idea of the Parent Project is that there are loads of things available, especially in Camden, but there was just no one person I could go to,” says Jacobs. “There are so many voluntary bodies you can go to for advice, assistance, grants for college. But I found out about lots of them too late. I’ve heard of children’s shelters now, but I didn’t know anything about them when I was sleeping in a bus shelter.
“I thought, why don’t we bring all this information together in one area so we can access it, and help each other out?”
The Parent Project, launched at the beginning of April, pulls together advice about benefits, housing and healthcare in Camden as well as listing all the essential contacts for young parents in the borough. It is also due to launch a forum in the near future for people to share their experiences, and even to pass on equipment as their own children grow up.<
Jacobs, now aged 22, set the site up with a £4,000 grant from the Big Boost, the now-defunct Lottery fund for young entrepreneurs. She also sought out guidance on how to build the website – “I had no idea how much these things were supposed to cost” – and has built up relationships with different bodies such as Camden’s housing department to make sure the site gives the right advice.
As the project is so young there are no site traffic statistics yet, but Jacobs has built a database of young parents she has met through college and drop-in centres to build the audience up. She is also using newsletters and posters in colleges and community centres to promote the site. “I don’t want to replace any of these services,” she says, “but people just don’t know what’s out there.”
The Parent Project is a personal project for Jacobs, who juggles running the site with studying for a degree in community sector management at London Metropolitan University and raising her six-year-old daughter. As a pregnant 15-year-old she was unable to live with her mother because of conflict with the mother’s partner, and was getting no help from social services. “I was just staying at different friends’ houses and living rough. I wasn’t getting any help from social services at all because they said I was too old.
“They just said I should approach hostels myself. I tried that, but you have to be referred by housing, and you can’t approach housing until you are 16. It was all very confusing, and you’re just going in circles.
“It’s difficult when you’re so young. Even if you want to do the right thing, it’s very difficult to know who to ask you just see the buck being passed between different people.”
Jacobs says that the housing situation has improved since then, and her concern is to help young parents create secure futures for themselves by making sure they know they can work or stay in education while raising children. Of all the different services available it is this, she says, that is the biggest unknown among young parents today.
“They don’t realise they can have assistance with child care and with finding it. There’s a lot of help available, so you can go to college, you can go to university things will actually enable you to do that. I meet so many people who think it is impossible, but there’s no reason not to.”
* Training materials for those working with teenage parents