Being a parent is hard.
Being a single parent is harder.
Being a teen parent is even harder still.
Being a single teen parent who grew up in foster care is nearly impossible.
And yet some of these young parents – overwhelmingly mothers – manage to raise physically and emotionally healthy children, while simultaneously finding their way through the developmental tasks of adolescence. The odds are not in their favor.
Parents who grew up in foster care are six times more likely than others to lose their children to the foster care system. Why do some succeed when so many fail? We explored that question this past week at two conferences focused on working with adolescent parents: ‘Caregiving Orientations’ in Dallas, Texas and ‘Nurturing Adolescents’ in Denver, Colorado.
Clearly, inherent individual differences contribute to success in parenting, as in other aspects of a teenager’s life. However, beyond that, the single most important factor may be the teen parent’s contact with caring, supportive adults who can help her navigate the complex and often conflicting developmental tasks of adolescence and parenting. Sometimes teens have the support of parents and extended family, particularly if they have grown up in a culture that readily accepts early parenting.
However, teen parents in foster care rarely have the support of their families. In fact, many of those who become pregnant while in care will lose their foster families as a result. These young people are ill-equipped for independence, either as individuals, still in the throes of development, or as parents, attempting to promote the healthy development of another.
Fortunately, some of them have access to programs like “How to Read Your Baby” or “Reaching HOPE,” that recognize that consistent relationships are the key to helping teenagers do the best they can for themselves and their children. Successful programs are built on the realization that the adults who work with these young parents must find ways of keeping hope alive for themselves and their clients.
The internal and external challenges facing any one of these young parents are daunting. Staff members must often hear one story after another with seemingly no way to get to a happy ending. Every day they are asked to hold the hope in the face of situations that appear hopeless. Sometimes even a glimmer of hope is hard to find, but sometimes that is enough.
Programs that maintain hopefulness in their staff also support hope for the young parents and children they serve. Sometimes a sense that things might be better tomorrow – even if just a little better – is enough to get through the day. And sometimes, just getting through the day creates a sense that things just might be better the next day.
By Toni Heineman