Young Parents Deserve Support Not Shame
Young parents, like all parents, want the best future for themselves and their children. In fact, young parents report that becoming a parent made them feel more motivated to stay in school. Yet one half of females who dropped out of school cited pregnancy or becoming pregnant as a primary reason for leaving school. Lack of support, inflexible and hostile schools, work demands, and family and child care responsibilities all create barriers to keep young parents from finishing their education. This can have lifelong consequences for young parents and their children.
Rather then supporting expectant and parenting students, schools, administrators, and teachers too often put up barriers that undermine young parents’ ability to succeed at and stay in school. Expectant and parenting students often find schools to be a hostile environment where they are treated differently by their teachers and peers. One young mother was told, “Girls who get pregnant in high school struggle to finish high school and rarely go to college” after she sought help from her school counselor with college applications. At NWLC, we have received complaints of schools refusing to excuse absences for childbirth, refusing to allow students to make up coursework, not allowing pregnant and new mothers to participate in homebound instruction, and penalizing pregnant students because they no longer fit in their mandatory school uniforms. One young mother who dropped out of school described her experience, “[T]hey just didn’t seem to care and some of the teachers treated me like she’s just gonna drop out now so don’t spend time on her. So I left.”
Title IX protects pregnant and parenting students from this type of discrimination. The law requires schools to give all students who might be, are or have been pregnant equal access to school programs and extracurricular activities, and to treat pregnant and parenting students in the same way that they treat other students with temporary medical conditions. . Unfortunately, many schools and administrators do not realize that Title IX applies to pregnant and parenting students and continue to engage in discriminatory behavior that pushes expectant and parenting students out of school.
Young Parents Dignity Agenda
Young parents deserve dignity, support, and respect. That’s why NWLC, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and other advocates support the Young Parents Dignity Agenda, which calls for policies that support and nurture young parents. Along with educational support, the Dignity Agenda recognizes that young parents need fair employment opportunities, access to health care and childcare, and protections against homelessness. If we are serious about supporting young parents and their children we must quit shaming and punishing them, and instead ensure that they have the support and help necessary to succeed—in school, as parents, and in life.