There are between 10,000 and 12,000 pregnant teens in Philadelphia, and more than two-thirds of them drop out of high school. Through a Pregnancy and Parenting Youth Subcommittee, Project U-Turn is trying to target this population and connect young parents with the services and support they need to either stay in school or go back.
“This is so important because we’re talking about two generations,” said Colleen McCauley-Brown of Philadelphia Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a co-convener of the task force with the Maternity Care Coalition. “The research bears out that children born to young parents have a higher rate of not finishing school and are more reliant on public assistance.”
McCauley-Brown said the group is investigating how to find pregnant and parenting youth who have left school and researching best practices elsewhere for helping them get back to school and stay there.
Right now, the group is trying to raise money for a marketing campaign that would put posters in health clinics. McCauley-Brown said that most pregnant teens – 92 percent – do get prenatal care.
“We want to go to where they are,” she said. In addition, they are working on getting health providers to ask teens about their school status. “We’re trying to find the girls who have left.”
A larger goal is to bring together all the city agencies that serve or advocate for the needs of pregnant teens to focus more on their educational as well as health and welfare needs and build closer partnerships with the schools.
McCauley-Brown said the group is not yet ready to make a recommendation about best practices in other districts that might be adopted here. So far, research has shown that there are many different models, including those with child care on site, those that provide transitional education and care and then facilitate transfer back to a regular high school, and longer-term alternative schools.
Right now, the biggest program for pregnant and parenting teens who are still in school is the Education Leading to Employment and Career Training/Cradle to Classroom (ELECT/CTC) program, which operates in 25 of Philadelphia’s 60 high schools.
ELECT/CTC has staff in each school and works with both male and female students who are parents or expectant parents. They attend seminars on topics ranging from parenting skills to nutrition to resume-writing, and get help to connect with resources including child care and transportation.
“Finding child care is often a major barrier [against] teen parents staying in school,” said Richard Floyd, vice-president of Communities in Schools of Philadelphia.
The staff also provides case management for students, and serve as mentors, talking students through personal issues that impact their ability to stay in school, Floyd said.
Kia Joynes, who now works for ELECT, credits the program with keeping her in school. It helped connect her to a neighborhood child care center where she could drop off her son in the morning and still make it to school on time without burdening her grandmother, she said.
Donnell Sykes said this one-on-one relationship was an important part of his experience in ELECT/CTC. His mentor quickly became a father figure, he said, someone he “always had access to, some who would give me the best advice.”
The program also has a Cradle to Classroom component, which includes home visits that allow staff to view the teen’s parenting skills in the home setting.
Staff report that students who take advantage of the services have high graduation rates, but ELECT only reaches a relatively small percentage of the pregnant and parenting teens – the ones who are still in school, and who know enough to utilize he program. It serves about 800 to 1000 students a year.
“It’s so critical to help teen parents,” McCauley-Brown said, “so they have more positive trajectory in their life and their children do, too.”