Unfortunately, I have not been able to blog as much as I would like lately. Here is the reason why…
Her name is Ryleigh and she is my beautiful, healthy granddaughter. So, for the last month, my daughter has been preparing for her birth and those preparation plans included my help. I am so glad that I could be part of the support system for both my girls. The weekend before Ryleigh’s arrival, my daughter (who happens to be a high school history teacher) and I were on a walk (we were trying to get her to go into labor with no luck) and the discussion about the lack of support of teen moms came up. My daughter said that she could not imagine going through this pregnancy without support and she had compassion for young girls who lacked the immense support she was experiencing. With that comment, she had me thinking about our teen parents and how little support many of them receive from school staff (at least in my experience). So, over the next couple of weeks, I have decided to create several posts dedicated to working with teen parents as a school counselor.
Although the purpose of this blog post is not to discuss prevention (which is truly important), I feel it is important to discuss pregnancy so we are aware of the trends among youth and laws regarding supporting students.
First, let’s look at teen pregnancy…
According to 2014 statistics reported by the CDC, 249,078 babies were born to youth between the ages 15-19. Although a historic low, the US still has one of the highest birthrates for teens among the industrialized nations. Also, it is important to note that there is a disparity in the birthrate among teens in different states in the US. Among the states, the South and West rule when it comes to teen births. New Mexico has the highest birthrates while Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma follow closely behind (Teen Pregnancy Rates by State). Among demographic groups, Latina females have the highest birthrates and youth in foster care are more than twice as likely to become pregnant (Teen Pregnancy Resources). In addition, teen pregnancy is often a generational repeat or when women in one family systematically become pregnant as teenagers (source: Rebecca Proctor, school social worker).
Historically, schools have had two options for dealing with teen moms. These options include ostracizing teen moms by the school staff or encouraging parents to send their girls away to other programs. However, research has found that there are much better techniques that schools can employ to assist teen mothers. These techniques include:
- Supporting family connection and support;
- Providing secure attachments at school;
- Encouraging father involvement;
- Assisting student in graduating from high school.
Next, let’s look at why should school counselors be concerned about teen pregnancy. There are four major reasons why school counselors should be assisting teen moms.
The most disturbing fact is that babies born to teen parents tend to be premature, have health problems, suffer abuse, and grow up poor.
Teen pregnancy is the top reason girls drop out of school. A teen female who becomes pregnant before the age of 18 is less likely to graduate from high school and less than 2% graduate from college.
Children of teen mothers are more likely to become pregnant teens.
Teen pregnancy costs taxpayers over $11 billion each year.
So now that we know we should be concerned, what can school counselors do to assist pregnant teens?
It is important for school counselors to educate parents, staff, and administrators about the rights of pregnant teens according to Title IX. Here is some important information you should know about working with pregnant teens as a school counselor.
1. Schools cannot require pregnant teens to leave their school and attend a separate program. If you are receiving pressure from staff or administration to force students to attend separate programs (i.e. alternative programs, online programs, or evening programs) against their will, it is a violation of their civil rights. That is very different from providing information about these programs and the teen volunteering to go to another program. It is important as a school counselor that you do not take on an administrative charge to provide lists of pregnant students and/or persuade students to attend alternative program (this is totally against the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX). Instead, school counselors should seek parent and student permission when providing names to be included on any lists requested by administrators. Protecting student confidentiality as a school counselor is our ethical responsibility and we certainly don’t want to be named in any type of litigation (cough, cough). For more information on protecting student confidentiality, please see Dr. Carolyn Stone’s article on Confidentiality and the Need to Know for additional guidance.
2. Schools cannot require a student to provide a doctor’s note to attend school or participate in any extracurricular activities because the students is pregnant unless the school requires all students to provide a doctor’s note for participation. Title IX explicitly states that you cannot treat a pregnant teen differently even if she is in the later stages of pregnancy.
3. Schools should immediately address and stop pregnancy related harassment by students and staff. This harassment can include name calling, written statements, physical harm, sexual jokes regarding the pregnancy, spreading rumors about the student’s sexual activity, or making sexual gestures toward the student. It is important to note that staff members are particularly guilty of harassment and need to be educated about making comments or putting disparaging remarks in emails.
4. Schools must make possible adjustments to the regular school program that are reasonable and responsive to the student’s temporary pregnancy status. Some reasonable adjustments include: providing a larger desk for the student, allow the student to go the bathroom when needed, or permit the student to use the elevator.
5. Schools cannot prevent a pregnant student from attending extracurricular events like homecoming, prom, sports, school clubs, or honor programs. Also, a student cannot be prohibited from holding a leadership position in extracurricular activities or sports.
6. Schools must excuse pregnancy related absences like childbirth recovery.
7. Schools must provide special services to pregnant students as they would provide for any student with a temporary medical condition (i.e. tutoring).
8. If a school receives federal monies, the school must ensure that all teachers provide the same treatment for pregnant students accepting makeup work.
9. Schools must create and publish a grievance policy for all students who experience discrimination related to pregnancy. In addition, schools must designate one person to coordinate and carry out the grievance procedures under Title IX. Students who wish to file a grievance may go to the following website to make a pregnancy related complaint. The complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date of the incident.
10. Although not required, the Office of Civil Rights suggests that school administration provide materials to staff when responding to pregnant students.
Resource: Title IX Pregnancy Resource
As a school counselor, you are bound to work with pregnant teens. When I first started working with teens, there was zero guidance (I mean nothing!). So, I wanted to take a moment to provide you with some helpful tips as a school counselor.
The Office of Civil Rights provides guidance to school counselors on effective methods in assisting pregnant students.
1. Meet with your pregnant students and their parents to let them know the resources that are available to them through the school district. Often parents, students, and even school counselors are unaware of the services that must be provided by school districts by the Office of Civil Rights.
2. Create a graduation support plan for pregnant and parenting students. This plan can include academic credit recovery, online options, and summer school options.
3. Contact pregnant or parenting students who have recently dropped out to provide encouragement for their return to school or a school equivalency program.
4. Provide follow up consultation with students who have dropped out to provide information regarding local GED programs, night school options, or online options.
5. Establish support groups for pregnant and parenting students.
6. Advise your librarian on books for pregnant and parenting teens. Some examples include:
7. Assist in providing resources about prenatal care, child care or early learning programs. Team up with other staff members in your school like your school nurse and school social worker or community agencies like hospitals, your local Department of Family Services, or other local agencies.
If you are unaware of the role of the school nurse in working with pregnant and parent teens, here is a tutorial from the National Association of School Nurses on the role of the school nurse.
- Recognize signs of pregnancy;
- Discuss reproductive options with students;
- Counteract pregnancy denial;
- Assist students in making healthy choices;
- Assist in facilitating dialogue between parents and students;
- Advocate for comprehensive sex education;
- Link students to reproductive health services;
- Provide education for students regarding the consequences of pregnancy;
- Build a support network for students including core services like childcare, healthcare for infants, case management, and economic assistance.
- Provide encouragement for adolescent males to bond with their infants.
As a school counselors, working with pregnant teens can be somewhat of a mystery; therefore, my goal is to provide a series of posts of how to work with teen parents. Here is a sneak peek of future posts:
Post #2: What to do when a teen tells you she is pregnant.
Post #3: How can you support pregnant and parenting teen moms.
Post #4: How can you support teen dads.
Do you need some resources? Here are a few that you can use with your pregnant teens.
MTV has provided free videos and discussion guides to use from its popular TV series, 16 and Pregnant. Before considering this discussion guide for girls at high risk for pregnancy, check with your school administration and district policies.
Teen moms can receive text messages during and after the pregnancy on such topics as prenatal care, baby health, and parenting.
Provide students and parents with this web link to find healthcare resources.