Teen Pregnancy in Texas
Cutting the funding for programs working to reduce teen pregnancy in Texas? (Seriously, lawmakers, what were you thinking?!) Here at Abrazo, we try not to get involved in political debates, being that we’re a state-licensed nonprofit organization. But the news that government officials in Washington have quietly slashed $213 million (yep, read that number again, that’s $213 MILLION) from federal grants supporting teenage pregnancy prevention utterly astounds us.
Because as you may or may not know, teenage pregnancy is still a Very Big Problem across the US, and particularly in Texas, where we have the fifth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country, and the highest repeat rates of teenage pregnancy.
The more cynical among us may be asking: why should an adoption agency care about this?
(After all, the majority of mothers who place children for adoption are not teens. But wouldn’t more unwanted pregnancies just potentially mean more parents in need of adoption services?)
A 7/24/17 Dallas Morning News editorial said it best: “When babies have babies, the cycles of poverty sadly become systemic and increasingly difficult to break. Girls — and the burden falls overwhelmingly on them — quit school to raise children without a father in the picture; they get stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs and become statistics. And, too often, their children face the same fate.”
How Can Society Help Teens Parent Better?
There’s not going to be one “right” option for every teen mom, of course. A mature teenager with a faithful partner and a strong support system may be well-suited to grow into a healthy parenting role, in time. In San Antonio, even teen moms without strong family support can find free services (including housing for them and their newborn) at Seton Home. (Additional readings and resources can be found at Healthy Teen Network, which is likewise where the helpful graphic below comes from; click it to view a larger version.)
Teens who become parents need a wealth of support, from housing to childcare to parenting classes to job training to education to medical care and more, and such services should rightfully be provided to both the mother and father and their child, too– not just in the weeks following the birth, but for months (or even years) to follow.
Parents of teen parents often struggle with the unforetold realities of raising two generations of offspring under one roof, because when the challenges of being a teen conflict with the duties of being a parent, all too often it falls to the teen parents’ parents to step in and help– or take over completely. It is important to under how adolescent parenting affects children, families and communities; sex education (before and after a teen pregnancy) is an essential tool in not only preventing repeat pregnancies but in breaking the cycle that too often causes the children of teenage parents to become teen parents themselves. Family counseling may also be a useful endeavor in helping parents and their parenting children renegotiate household responsibilities and set appropriate boundaries tot help all parties better understand who should be doing what, for whom, and when and why?
Why Don’t More Teen Parents Consider Adoption?
Given the enormous complications that can come with children raising children, why is it that more teens don’t ever even consider the option of adoption?
A 1993 study by Marcia Custer of adoption as a teenage pregnancy option found that less than 5% of pregnant teens choose adoption for their child/ren, despite prior findings that teens who place are more likely to enjoy educational advantages, to delay marriage, to be employed with a higher income, and less likely to have a repeat out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and to abort in the future (McLaughlin, 1988.)
Teens who become pregnant often view being someone’s mom as something that elevates their status and makes them more “adult” (missing entirely the irony that becoming a parent before they’re ready may actually make them more dependent on their parents than ever.)
Studies suggest that the vast majority of teen parents are often themselves the product of teen parents, which can impact their pregnancy planning in a variety of ways. Some feel pressured to parent as their parents did, for fear of offending their parents if they consider other alternatives, such as abortion or adoption; for others, however, their parents may be young enough to now feel ready to raise a second family and opt to raise the grandchild themselves. Cultural biases and misconceptions about adoption also often come into play.
Many teens who have chosen to make adoption plans have found themselves shamed or bullied by their peers for doing so. “Everyone I know is keeping their baby, and they give me crap for giving mine away,” said one sixteen-year-old Abrazo birthmom who placed. “But just because they’ve got free daycare at school or a tia who watches the baby for them, that doesn’t mean their babies have everything they need. They say I’m selfish for wanting to go to college and make something of my life. I think they’re selfish for thinking their kids don’t deserve better.”
It’s crucial that teens who do opt for option be fully appraised of their rights, their responsibilities, their options and alternatives, and at Abrazo, that’s a duty we embrace fully. Adoption is never an easy choice for anyone, and the emotions that follow any adoption decision make counseling an essential component of the experience. Open adoption arrangements, while more inclusive, cannot mitigate all of adoption’s losses, so it is important for teenage birthparents to understand healthy boundaries, to engage in effective communication with the adopting family, and to have comprehensive post-adoption support services as part of their placement plan. Adopting parents matched with expectant teens must be diligent about treating the prospective birthparents as the responsible young adults they are, even if it’s tempting to relate to them as a parent figure, or to see the teens’ parents as being adult peers in the adoption process.
At Abrazo, we welcome pregnant teens and their parents to explore what open adoption means and to consider how it might serve the needs of all the children involved in any teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy in Texas is a longstanding problem with ever-shrinking public funding, true! but it’s still an issue that impacts us all, one way or the other. By working together, perhaps, we can seek solutions to alleviate some of the burdens that teen pregnancy in Texas places upon our state’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens.