Chicago’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program received $2 million of restored federal funding Aug. 22 following its suspension by the Department of Health and Human Services in July 2017.
“If you’re going to try to push through a program for teen moms, there’s going to be pushback, especially if they’re unmarried teen mothers,” said Mary Patrice Erdmans, co-author of “On Becoming a Teen Mother: Life Before Pregnancy” and sociology professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Why should we be throwing federal dollars at them? All of that could be avoided if we had a national childcare program.”
According to an Aug. 22 press release from the Mayor’s Office, Chicago reported a decrease in teen pregnancies, aided by the city’s teen pregnancy prevention initiative which focuses on providing education and healthcare services to teens.
In 1999, there were 85.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 years old, according to the press release. By 2015, there were only 27.5 births per capita, a 68 percent decrease.
The Chicago Department of Public Health, along with 62 other organizations, is responsible for a class-action lawsuit filed to challenge the dismissed funding, according to the press release. Funding was unexpectedly cut only three years into the five-year program.
During the time the program was unfunded, CDPH was unable to collect vital data needed to evaluate the program’s progress, the release stated.
Outreach is critical, according to local advocates.
“It helps for students to feel like they have someone in a space that they can talk to,” said Jurema Gorham, dean of Instruction at Butler College Prep. “It is one thing to console the child and talk to them about the dangers [of teen pregnancy], but it is another thing when you’re educating.”
Sex education is just as important as other subjects taught, according to Stay Teen, an online sexual education center targeted to teens.
“A lot of [young] girls don’t understand anything about sex. I’m still learning things about sex, and things about my body as a woman, and I’m 20,” said Suzannah Meza, a sophomore early childhood education major.
While preventive measures and education are important to reducing teen pregnancy, there are still a lack of resources for those who do become teen mothers, according to a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
If a teen mother decides to further her education by attending a two-year or four-year college, she now faces a new world of barriers, Erdmans said.
College-aged teen mothers have limited flexibility with schedules and financial standings, Erdmans said. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, four in 10 single, college-aged mothers attending two-year institutions are likely or very likely to drop out due to dependent care obligations.
Erdmans thinks this can change with the addition of childcare services on campuses.
“You go to work and you’re there 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but with school you may need to take one class on Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. This becomes a problem for you to use regular childcare,” Erdmans said. “To have childcare that would be flexible for mothers to be able to come to class and drop off their child for a couple of hours [would be more helpful.] There needs to be some allowance, some flexibility.”
Action would need to be taken on an institutional level to implement childcare services, according to Erdmans. Programs targeting teen mothers often see legislative pushback due to the negative connotations that come with being a teen mother, often due to being unwed at the time of conception, Erdmans said.