Teenage mothers have traditionally faced stigma from society, including being forced to drop out of school. The Choices Adolescent Mothers’ Program run by the Child Welfare League of T&T provides support for some of these young mothers, allowing them to return to school and complete their education.
Social work Annette Preito said the main objective of the program, to prevent teen mothers from having second babies, is fulfilled in 90% of the cases. “The reasons behind the girls getting pregnant vary. Some are very naive and didn’t even understand when they got pregnant. In other cases there was just curiosity about sex, but there was no sex education and sex conversations in the home as that was taboo, especially for the religious people. Many girls from good religious homes have ended up pregnant because their families have not accepted speaking about it. It speaks to sex education in schools as well because I’ve met pregnant 12-year-olds and it has been really a shocker. Sex education should start in primary school, society has to understand sex is beginning there, with nine, 10, 11-year-olds.” Peer and family pressure are also an issue, “They want to belong somewhere. Sometimes they don’t even like the guy that they had the baby with. Sometimes they try to remember where and when, because to them the sex wasn’t a main or major event. As you meet with them, you get a sense of what caused the pregnancy and now that they are pregnant how they transition to that pregnant state, because it’s a big transition from being a single, unburdened teen to being a burdened teen. Then we move to their actual dealing with the delivery, the nurse takes on a lot of that, and the social worker deals with the feelings.”
“We have had some cases of incest as well as rape cases. In the two instances of rape, both men have done prison terms. What we don’t have prison terms for is carnal knowledge, because a 19, 20-year-old guy having sex with a 13-year-old girl is carnal knowledge but the parents of these girls do not report. In most cases the guy is out there having kids with other young girls. Nobody wants to report him so he is a pest in the community but the communities should deal with him, because even if he hasn’t interfered with your girl child as yet, what are you waiting for? So there’s no community gelling around that issue. The family and community try to hide it but they can’t, because the girl remains living there, the school knows she’s out of school, the principal sends us referral letters, so it is known.”
Annette said socio-economic background also wasn’t a major factor in the pregnancies as 50% of the girls come from financially comfortable homes where they have family support, while the other 50% do need some sort of financial support.
The program lasts a year and involves a series of components, including academic, parenting skills, vocational skills, life skills, personal development and growth and spirituality. “The nurse comes in and she does pre-natal and post-natal matters, and then there’s the social worker who does the social work intervention that deals with data gathering, accurate assessments, and then the intervention. The intervention is at the individual girl’s level and then it is taken to the family, because they didn’t fall from trees, they came to us from families and because they are minors, from 13 to 17-years-old, we have to speak with legal guardians because they have to agree for us to gather the needed data.”
“The back-to-school rate has been very good. The important factor is the family support and structure that surrounds them, not only financially but mentally and emotionally.”
Annette said there is still some stigma surrounding teenage mothers but it is fueled by religion rather than the society. “I think the society has advanced enough to not continue to stigmatize them. The intelligence of the 21st century has moved us past that stage, so that principals who were the ones to not want to accept them before, are very willing now to take them back in schools. It used to be a no-no and parents had to hide the girls somewhere in the country, say they went away and claim it was some big sister child, etc.”
“I think it’s a solid social program. In its objectives and its outcomes it really is a program for the 21st century, it allows young girls to reconsider their worth as a lot of their problems relate to their self-esteem and it speaks a lot to their reconsidering themselves, their self worth and their self image.”