After serving as a case manager – and lifeline – for thousands of teen parents in West County, the Y Team’s Sue Dixon is retiring. First 5 Contra Costa has funded the YMCA of the East Bay to provide case management and counseling to pregnant and parenting teens for the last decade. During this time, Sue has served young mothers with a fierce combination of tenacity and compassion. Before Sue retires, she took the time to share some of her expertise about teen mothers. Thank you Sue, and good luck!
What are the main issues facing teen moms?
Some of the main issues facing teen moms are the same as other moms – housing, food, transportation, clothes, diapers, or money. But teens also are dealing with the issues of just being a teen – school, peer pressure, friends, parents – then add in a baby’s father who also could be a teen and mix it all up and you have a teen drama. Many of these teens are scared and looking for someone to be there for them. Some have family support, some have their baby’s father, and many have no support.
Stop and think for one minute if you were 14 and you’re pregnant – your parents might help or maybe kick you out or tell you to live with the baby’s father or his parents. You get to the boyfriend’s house and they don’t have much room and now they have another mouth to feed. Now you have to go to school, be responsible for appointments, be a parent, get up in middle of night, do homework, get baby ready, get yourself ready, maybe you don’t look so hot anymore and kids are making fun of you at school. And now you have to find out how to get resources. Who can you turn to?
Teens need that extra help not just for themselves, but for the child they will be raising. As we work with these girls we hope they come away with knowledge about how to make things better in their surroundings for themselves and how to advocate for their child. In the words of our teacher, “Have a plan…and remember that a man is not the plan.”
The teen moms we have worked with have had opportunities others girls have not. Many of them understand the importance of education, the importance of having only one child, and how to live and grow in their environment. Many teens that we meet years later have completed their high school education or higher, still only have one child and are working or going to school. I bet 10 years from now when we look back at some of the children we have touched through First 5 funding, we will see we changed many lives.
In your time working with teen parents, how have their issues changed?
Every year is different. For example, one year we had a number of teens who were having housing issues. Another year, more had issues with Medi-cal or doctors. Some years we saw more violence – both domestic and in the streets.
This year, we saw a higher number of younger pregnant teens. Our average age is between 13 and 16. We have seen a number of teens whose babies’ fathers are teens as well. For a number of years many of our dads were in their twenties, but this has changed.
This year we have a number of teens whose living arrangements are not the best situations but they have no alternatives. We also have many under stress and dealing with post partum issues and our counselor has been handling a higher number of requests for counseling.
We also have a number of teens who are behind in their units to graduate so we work on ways to get additional units and find help to pass the California Exit Exams.
What are some effective ways for teaching young parents parenting skills?
This is a huge challenge. We find many teachable moments in the (teen parent) class that are valuable lessons for more than one teen usually.
Many of these teens get advice from all over. We try and use text, videos, and workshops that are evidenced based and give the girls material in small dosages so they can absorb it better. We also work on presenting the information in a culturally sensitive way. Role modeling is another way we work on showing that we walk the walk.
One of our best tools in teaching parenting is having the teen do an autobiography of herself: thereby learning about herself, her strengths, what she can build on, and what she can leave behind. Videos work well with teens since they are a very media-driven generation.
What are you going to do now?
I head to Texas to provide support to my own family and my three grandchildren there. I will not be sitting in a rocking chair but very likely will track some program down and do a little volunteer work.
I leave the Y Team Teen Program in very capable hands. For those of you reading this and whom I have worked with during my 12 years of case managing teens, know I appreciate all of your help, kindness, and time you gave me. Each of you has a special place in my heart. You made my work so much easier and I thank y’all for that. Adios Amigos.