2016 Review!

2016 has been an interesting year for young mums.
In May there was the high profile campaign; Power to the Bump. Laura and Sophie did some great work with the Young Women’s Trust, doing media interviews and such to highlight the issues for young mums. It’s great that this campaign was founded on strong research highlighting the discrimination young mums face, and was then made real by young mums talking about their own experiences. We need both education providers and employers to support young mums to ensure that they are not adding addition barriers or stress to young mums at a time when they need the most support!

In June Public Health England and LGA published a framework for supporting young parents – there was some good practice highlighted but still the pathways didn’t quite show a full understanding for young parents’ journeys and contexts. The responsibility to provide flexible support to young mums in education is also left to each individual LA, risking LAs being able to provide support that meets *their* needs, rather than the young parents.

In November Teen Mom UK aired  and while the reaction was mixed there was a good deal of positive support for the girls and overall the experience for them seems to have been positive. The show highlighting the complicated relationships young mums often have to negotiate alongside being a mum but it was clear throughout that being a good mum was always the primary focus.

A glimmer of hope in a depressing year of politics has been seeing Angela Rayner‘s rise to Shadow Secretary for Education. She was a teen mum at 16 with no qualifications yet she credits the support she had a young mum and is fighting against cuts to such support. She’s also not afraid of being herself and saying it how it is. In November, former teen Mum, Teresa Pearce MP,  also wrote about the crisis in social care and the importance of investing in people, as she was supported as a young mum. Notice any theme here?

In other news there was some great positive publicity for the Young Motherhood Project this year with articles on Buzzfeed and huffington post, Maddy wrote an actual book (which is a great resource for young mums and anyone who might ever meet a young mum!) and  I was asked to talk on the radio 4 show ‘The Pregnant Teen Vanishes‘ where, instead of getting into why the rate has decreased (meh), I talked about the impact of stigma on how young mums feel about themselves and how we should value young mums more!

Young Women’s Trust released a report on young women who are economical inactive. In total, 274,000 women age 18-24 are ‘economically inactive’ – 61% of these are caring for family. This term is a truly unrepresentative way to describe young mums caring for their children and potentially others too! While there is more to do in understanding opportunities to  develop  careers around families, we first we need to really value the job young mums are doing of bringing up their children. They are not ‘inactive’ and they are probably doing the most important job they will ever be doing! And yet by marginalising young mums at this time we risk de-valuing it and therefore not providing the support that anyone needs when caring for another human being. Having just finished reading ‘liberating motherhood’ by Vanessa Olorenshaw I realise we need to stop apologising for caring for our children! All mums should be supported in their choices but often it’s even harder for young mums to say this because we are made to feel that we don’t deserve to have that voice or to have any demands of society. It makes me feel uncomfortable just suggesting this! But we should be demanding a society that cares for those who are caring for others. It goes against all my instincts for independence but who really is independent? So often someone is caring for someone else to allow you believe you are independent. And that’s ok. We just need to acknowledge it and value it! I write this as my brother sleeps upstairs on a break from a locked hospital where he needs two people to just take him to the computer room. Yet here he is, perfectly happy and relaxed, for the best part of 2 weeks while I take a ‘break from work’. It’s taken me 20 years to get to the position I’ve always wanted at work and I love it. Yet I still suspect I could be of more value somewhere else! This requires a change, not only in how I think, but how society thinks and supports people.

Liberating caring is all about young mothers not having to apologise any more! We should be proud of what we are doing, but we also need to demand that we are cared for too, because that’s the kinda society we should want to live in! Here’s to 2017 – a long way to go but our voices are getting louder! And that is only ever a good thing!!

Teen Mom Alumni

image“Are you motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed?”

We saw MTV’s adverts appealing for for teen mums in the UK to apply.

Tweets read ‘Are you a young mum with attitude? Want to show the world how it’s done?’

When I get contacted for teen mums I usually say “sorry, they are not a commodity to be used for your own agenda”, and then if I’m convinced to continue the conversation I will at least say “Just don’t touch the vulnerable ones”. I don’t share the details for fear it will only tempt them, but I mean the ones under 16, the ones with PND, the ones experiencing DV without realising it, the shy ones, the ones with no support. At least spare them the intrusion and false hope that someone wants to give them a voice, when the only voice they are given is that of the producers.

So I’m glad these Teen Moms have attitude – they will need it – I hope they have enough. I hope they get their voices heard and I hope the public love them. If not I’ll be defending each one of them. See, my attitude didn’t develop till I’d long left my teens… So I’m making up for lost time, for the years when I kept my head down, and didn’t listen to my own voice enough to challenge those around me.

We may not like teenage motherhood being pushed as ‘entertainment’ but teenage pregnancy has long been a ‘public concern’ – Whether we like it or not we are out there to be commented on.

And unfortunately young mums are affected by public attitudes:
When people say teen mums get pregnant to get houses, no one challenges government policy making it more difficult for those who are homeless .

When people say teen mums are lazy, no one cares that government cuts to welfare leave young mums even worse off.

When people say teen mums are slags the conversation about contraception comes before ‘Are you OK?’.

Sometimes putting positive stories out there and inviting even more judgement feels futile – as if we think just one more story will change people’s minds! And then when it doesn’t we wonder whether it just wasn’t positive enough. I should have got a 1st in my degree (maybe I could explain why), or I should be happily married (I should say that this is my own choice). Sometimes I wonder if we should just keep quiet and stay off people’s radar – it’s probably a more successful strategy. People may even think the whole Teen Pregnancy Prevention thing was so successful that we now cease to exist! But then there will be others speaking on our behalf, there will be numbers instead of faces, there will be girls finding out they are pregnant and thinking their lives are over, and no one has ever been where they are, thinking the same thing.

I may no longer be a teen mum but people can still do the maths; “Oh, you were/are THAT kinda girl’? Or “Wow – you’ve done so well considering” – I get both these. I’ve spent enough time in paid employment to receive a patronising “well done” yet I’m not quite demure enough to shake off the promiscuous identify associated with the fact I ‘shudda kept my legs crossed’. Together we are all exceptions to the rule and yet part of a group that needs to stick together. The ‘teen mum stereotype’ won’t go away by us checking out the group, it just gets pointed on someone else. If we share the stigma out equally we can just about cope, with our less than perfect lives.

We may not agree with MTVs approach but the ‘teen moms’ on the screen next week are real people – and teen mums and former teen mums watching are real people too.

When people say these teen mums on TV are promoting teen pregnancy by being so brash and proud, the quiet young mum remembers never to speak out.

When people say  “You’re different to ‘those teen mums'” the judgement from others becomes the only way to validate our stories, and invalidate others.

To create safety in numbers we can’t just abandon the Teen Mum label when we reach 20. We may not all be ‘motivated, inspiring, outspoken and unashamed’ all the time, but we will forever be the Teen Mum Alumni.

 

Power to the Bump!!

Young Mums and Maternity Rights

Last Thursday the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched #PowertotheBump, a digital campaign to help young expectant and new mothers know their rights at work and have the confidence to stand up for them.

They highlighted research that showed young mothers are significantly more likely to experience pregnancy and maternity discrimination, with six times as many under 25 year olds than average reporting being dismissed from their jobs after they tell their employer they are pregnant.

Young mums under 25 are also more likely than older mums to be verbally harassed because of their pregnancy and are more likely to be discouraged from attending antenatal appointments. This could be due to a number of reasons: Women under 25 are more likely to be in unstable, low paid work or in more junior positions. They may feel less confident to ask for time off and they may feel judged for making a choice to be a parent at a ‘socially unacceptable’ time in their lives, or for not having made that conscious choice at all, making the working environment uncomfortable – Indeed the EHRC state that ‘the insight and feedback  shows that young women had lower awareness of their rights, were typically in less stable employment situations and were worried or lacked confidence to talk to their manager about things that were troubling them – and so felt under pressure to hand in their notice or leave their job than raise issues.’

Many (particularly large) employers are great at providing support to pregnant employees. As I’ve progressed in my career I’ve seen older women announce with confidence their pregnancies at work, and it saddens me to know that younger mums rarely have this luxury. Young mums don’t tend to hear ‘congratulations’, any sense of pride is often viewed as a ‘disgrace’ – they are taught to keep their heads down and be invisible. 

Therefore this isn’t about just asking all employers to do more or providing more generous conditions, but understanding why young mums are so much more likely to experience this avoidable stress during their pregnancy than older mums, and then addressing those specific issues.  Pregnancy and Maternity is a protected characteristic. It’s recognised as discrimination if they are treated less favourably. This is progress. However, the only way to ensure young mums receive the right support is to apply those rights to the individual young pregnant woman regardless of the situation; whether she’s working full time, studying full time, combining part time work and study, etc.

I was  at college studying A-levels when I found out I was pregnant. I only told my tutor so early because I thought I’d have to leave. Instead she looked at what I could do, how I could stay on and then how I could come back in a capacity that suited my situation. I was 16. I was scared. I wasn’t living at home. I had a lot going on. My tutor became my informal advocate and supported me throughout my time at college. But this wasn’t her role – it wasn’t policy. I was just lucky. Even now, 20 years on, there is no clear pathway for young mum’s rights regarding education and employment.

Public Health England recently published a ‘A framework for supporting
teenage mothers and young fathers‘. However, in their well developed ‘joined up care pathways’ education or employment is not mentioned at all during pregnancy and education only appears after ‘Help with choosing postnatal contraception’ and referrals to ‘on-going support services, health visitors, teenage parent support service, and children’s centres’.  Employment is never mentioned, even though many young mums want to work to financially support their families. Raising the Participation Age (RPA) means than young people are expected to stay on in education until they are 18, yet there is no legal requirement on the length of maternity leave and Local Authorities are just advised to ‘tailor maternity leave to the individual’. The danger is that this gives them scope to tailor it to the individual education provider, rather than the young parent. Barnardo’s research in 201o (Not the End of the Story: supporting teenage mothers back into education) cited young mums recalling being unofficially excluded for ‘pregnancy-related reasons’. Bullying and, more generally, the stigma associated with being pregnant while at school was also highlighted. There is no evidence that this has improved.
While some young mums plan their pregnancies, for many, early pregnancy wasn’t part of their life plan. The last thing they need is an employer or education provider adding to that sense of insecurity. I know if I hadn’t had support and flexible options during pregnancy I wouldn’t be where I am now. So, whatever the young mums’ situation, those ‘joined-up pathways’ need to include early support in education or employment. Young mums need to know what their rights are as soon as they start making those often difficult  choices. And they need the confidence to stand up for those rights by knowing they will be listened to rather than judged. We know that for young mums, it’s becoming a mum that leads them to care more about their future. Wouldn’t it be great if others cared about those futures too, right from the very start?

 

Join us a 9pm tonight to discuss #powertothebump

2015 – young mums take over

So, I thought about maybe not writing a round up of the year for 2015  – I’ve neglected prymface terribly this year and I think we only managed one and a half #youngmumschats! But then I started to think about what a round up might include ….

January 2015 was a pretty big deal with an event at the House of Commons,  where young mothers came together to put their views forward about young motherhood – I can’t thank Jendella enough for organising this. It was such a positive atmosphere, and it was amazing to hear Teresa Pearce MP speak about her personal experiences of being a young mum.

We started a faceboook group to improve communication between our little-but-ever-growing-community of young mums and if you’re ever in need of some motivation you just need to scroll down and read the introductions again because it feels like world domination isn’t far off given some of their achievements so far!

In March I somehow found Prymface being mentioned on The Wright Stuff! Some of my past quotes were read out and got a round of applause – you read that right – no booing or tutting, an actually round of applause – I recorded it all with my phone on catch up as evidence! The lovely Rebecca Fergurson was on the panel too proving my point that young mums aren’t scum!

Sophie K and Laura joined the Young Women’s Trust advisory panel – and have done more than I could ever have imagined to raise the voices of young mums. Sophie was interviewed on the telly re childcare. Laura interviewed a best selling author/young mum. Sophie also attended a meeting with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and highlighted the barriers for young parents, particularly around employment and maternity rights. So so proud of you both! 🙂

In the Summer, Baby Faced Mums aired on Five* – We were all ready for the public moral outrage – except that it never happened. Instead each week viewers seems more and more understanding and even admiring of these ‘baby faced mums’ as they exhibited maturity and motivation not normally associated with TV ratings. We recruited as many as we could to our facebook group…They blogged here and here for us and shared their positivity and wisdom. Maddy was also interviewed on Radio 5 about the best age to become a mum and proved that age is just a number (despite the older mum still assuming it was a competition!).

There were positive articles about young parents in Vice magazine, the guardian and the Telegraph, and personal testimonies were posted by Danny Dyer and Barack Obama! Our Elle also had an article published in the telegraph about why it’s wrong to judge teen mums – Reading her story, no one could argue with that!

Eventually people started to notice discrepancies with the tax credits  narrative as young parents under 25 were set to lose out not only from the cuts but they were also deemed unworthy of the increase in minimum wage, so would effectively be worse off than any other age group. This discrimination got attention from Family Rights Group and two MPs, Jess Phillips and Angela Rayner, both former young mums.

In October an evaluation came out of FNP, a scheme set up to support young mums from pregnancy for 2 years. Despite previous evaluations suggesting that results for both mothers and their children were  positive,  the RCT found that results were not significantly any better than for a similar group of young mothers who did not receive the targeted intervention. This came as a surprise and there were a number of different explanations for this. One that caught me eye was that perhaps ‘teenage’ was not a reliable proxy for ‘disadvantaged’…..

In November Sophie K won a Charity Award for Inspiring Communicator. She is described here as a ‘dedicated champion of young mothers, the unemployed and those who have suffered cultural stereotyping and discrimination – having experienced all these things herself.’ – A worthy winner by anyone’s account!

And so the year ends on a high,  with young mothers being recognised as the  experts that they are….Not disadvantaged by their age, but with a unique insight and wisdom and motivation, challenging negativity and barriers head on with admirable positivity and confidence way beyond their years.  I literally could not be prouder!

So maybe you guys didn’t need me after all!

I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds!

 

 

 

 

“The Exception To The Rule”

I recently scored what I thought was a victory for the name of young parents everywhere. After having my daughter at the age of nineteen and halfway through university, I found out I would be graduating on time, with no less than a first class honours degree. I thought it was another step of progress; another step towards people realising that young mums don’t fit the stereotype they’ve diligently believed for all these years.

But apparently, I’m ‘the exception to the rule’. My achievement means nothing in the grand scheme of things, because I will always be a young mum, and young mums will always be incapable of achieving.

I don’t know what the ‘rule’ is, but I think it goes something like this – young woman, no matter how clever, ambitious and ‘normal’ (although in the majority of cases they must be uneducated and perceived as promiscuous) gets pregnant and must immediately conform to society’s idea of what a young mum is – a layabout with no intention of working, who claims benefits and spends it on alcohol and cigarettes, before having several more children with different fathers. The young woman must follow this formula to keep society happy. Society then criticises the woman for scrounging, for being a ‘slut’, for wanting kids for the free council house (excuse me while I wet myself laughing; they don’t hand out keys to a three-bed semi in your Bounty Pack, you know…).

When a young woman defies or breaks free of that cycle, as so very many of us have done and continue to do so, it’s too difficult for society to wrap its pretty little head around the idea that maybe, just maybe, they got things wrong. Each and every successful young mum is an ‘exception to the rule’.

It’s easy to read this and think nah, she’s just perceiving herself as being seen this way, but people have told me as much. It’s clear that they think I have broken some kind of ‘Young Mum Commandment’ in continuing with my education (FYI, we don’t have commandments. Or a club, or some kind of chat page where we rub our hands with glee at all the money we get and all the men we sleep with. Sorry to burst your bubbles).

The honest truth is that I’m not an exception to the rule, because there’s no rules in the first place. Young mums and young parents are exceeding expectations every day. Take the general perception that young mums can’t parent properly – their children are neglected, or the grandparents do all the work. My partner and I have lived away from our parents for the last two years; we raise our daughter alone – we are doing that every single day, and I know that we are far from alone in that.

When a young parent makes the decision to have another child, I consider that a victory for young parents too. It is a young person making the conscious decision to have the family they want, at the time they want, without bowing to these pressures put on us. To have one child young is considered careless, to have another at a young age is more often described with words that aren’t suitable for a post like this. But there’s nothing reckless or stupid about it – I have so much respect for the young parents out there who are confident and make the decision to expand their families, putting what is right for them ahead of what society thinks they should do.

The same goes for young parents who continue with their education. I know I’m biased, as I did that myself, but it took so much gritting my teeth and forcing myself through it when all I wanted to do was get out of a lecture and run to the nursery, pick up my five month old daughter and cuddle her, but I did it, and it is one of my proudest achievements, and is paying off now that I am working and bringing in money for her.

And for those who choose to leave education – that’s a victory too. It is young people, the young people society makes out to be so reckless and irresponsible as to get pregnant and have children young, making responsible decisions that work for their family. These are victories, each and every one, because we are young parents, not waiting around for life to throw our next opportunity at us, but going out and finding it ourselves, each in our own way.

And do you know what? Being a young person is tough. Being a parent is tough. We’re combining the two and dealing with a whole barrage of ‘tough’ – and if we stumble, we’re failing, exactly what everyone expects us to do. If we succeed, it means nothing – we’re not like those ‘other’ young mums. What they don’t realise is that these ‘other’ young mums don’t exist. They’re fictional caricatures.

The reality of being a young parent? Trying to write an essay while your toddler taps the + key incessantly to add unwanted symbols to your critical analysis of Ibsen and Ayckbourn. Juggling a baby and a toddler in the supermarket and trying to avoid the dirty looks all around you. Trying somehow to please everyone, when your friends want you to be ‘the old you’, and your baby needs ‘the new you’.

We do this all and more.

We aren’t exceptions to the fictional rule. We smash the rule each and every day. To voice your pride is taboo; you aren’t supposed to be proud of being a young parent. It’s supposed to be taboo; something you suffix with ‘ – but I stayed in education’, or ‘ – but the father and I are still together’, in order to convince people that you’re not one of those usual teenage mums – you’re an exception to that rule.

I think we’ve had just about enough of that. We should be standing up and saying no; actually, there is no rule. Each and every one of us isn’t ‘the good kind’ of young parent – we’re all young parents, and we’re all pretty damn excellent at what we do. It’s about time we stood up and took pride in what we’ve achieved – proving that anything other people can do, we can do it, have done it, and continue to do it every day, whilst simultaneously raising pretty awesome tiny human beings. That’s pretty exceptional, and makes me pretty damn proud to call myself a young parent.

July 2015

Maddy tweets at @maddyleigh1994

You could offer me a million pounds and I will still choose young parenthood!

Hi! My name is Lettie and I am 21 years old. I am not your regular 21 year old. I am one of the luckiest 21 year olds as I get to be called Mummy by three beautiful children. Yes, I know the baby can’t talk but still!

I first became a mother to Zachary aged 18, back in 2012. Soon after came Henry in 2013, followed by Elsie in 2014. I am engaged to my children’s father and we are due to be married in August after 4.5 years together.

Recently life got a bit exciting. I saw an advert on twitter for a casting call looking for mums and mums to be aged 16-21. I thought why the hell not and applied for the TV show. I got a phone call later to fill in the application form and ask some questions.

I then didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and had another phone call from the TV company asking if we were still interested and if we could skype the next day.

So the next day we did our skype chat with the TV company. Throughout this I had Elsie (then 3 months) on my lap the whole time! The skype chat would then be shown to the producers.

A few weeks went by and we heard nothing. I honestly thought they hadn’t picked us, began to forget about it and move on with life. One day I was actually in the car coming back from the doctors when I got a phone call from one of the show’s producers. They said they would love to come and film with us and gave us a weeks notice!

I had a rough idea of what we were being asked to do and what they wanted to achieve. I personally feel as a young/teenage mum that people easily judge you and just class you as a statistic, when that is completely uncalled for. Everyone’s situation is different and I knew that this show was set out to prove that.

So we skip forward a few days and filming began. It was much more intense than I expected but the crew were such lovely genuine people, just like the casting team and producers we had spoken to so far were.
They basically followed us through our day but did ask us to talk about certain things and do certain things.

I wanted to make sure that we hopefully portrayed ourselves well. Showing that although we are young we are mature, good parents who are capable of supporting themselves and their family.

Friday and the second day of filming began. This day was more focused on me and the responsibilities that come with being a young mum and how that makes me feel along with the stigma. I personally feel judged against as even though my partner works a full time job he works shifts so is around a lot in the day depending on what shift he is working. I feel that people seeing us walking down the street and just automatically assume that we are young parents on benefits popping out kids for money/house or whatever reason they are thinking. When it’s not like that at all!

In this day of filming they sent me and my partner on a date. This was the first time we had been out since November 2013! We had such an amazing night and it made us realise that we need to take more time for ourselves as a young couple rather than ‘mum and dad’. It was lovely for one night to feel like a young couple just enjoying some food and drinks like most 21&25 year old couples do! Of course, mum and dad duties were still going on though. This was the first time I had left Elsie and after messages to the baby sitter I began to relax.

It’s really hard to try and get some time away from the kids especially when some months money can be tighter than others. They are my top priority so they always have what they need and more. If we can’t have one night for a meal that month then that’s fine. As long as my children are happy, healthy and not wanting for anything then that makes me happy.

Sunday was day three of filming. During interviews in previous filming we had talked about me wanting to work my way back up and be a midwife. So we took the boys to the library and I wrote out a CV while looking after a 3 year old and a 2 year old! Let’s just say they were being ‘lively’ and I actually found the whole scenario really stressful. Trying to do 100 things at once is really hard!

Overall though I found filming the TV doc a really really positive experience and I do not have a bad word to say about it.

I’m hoping that by allowing the camera and crew into our lives it will show the true reality of what it is like to be young parents in Britain today.

Yes, it is hard to be a thriving young parent, it’s very hard when you face a constant battle of trying to defend yourself from a constant stream of judgement, critical opinions and being labelled as a ‘ statistic’ but you know what? I would not change anything for the world. You could give me a million pounds and I will still choose young parenthood, my three beautiful babies and my amazing supportive partner over everything. I have no regrets about that path I took and we are only getting stronger better and more wise.

July 2015

Lettie tweets at @head_lettie

A Young Mums View on Support in 2014

Recently I was due to attend a conference as a representative of young mums. I had to fight rather hard for an invite. This was a conference about the support of young parents (anyone parenting under the age of 25) yet, NO young parents had been asked to attend on the panel discussion, let alone talk. Sadly, my son was ill and I couldn’t attend. I wrote this article for the delegates pack.

This was seen by CEO’s of charitys, social workers, support workers, police, midwives and the head of the UK teenage pregnancy strategy.

My name is Emilie. I am a young mum to four children. I was a teenager the first time I fell pregnant and I am still a young mum at the age of 24. I’m single and my children’s dad is not involved in their upbringing, I live on a council estate and claim benefits. If ever there was a cliché young mum – I am it!

It can be (very) frankly claimed that people, like myself, are government funded breeders and that my situation is seen as a lifestyle choice with living expenses and a free house thrown in. However, a young person who chooses to or ends up parenting at a young age doesn’t always fit the uneducated, poor, promiscuous or thoughtless stereotype. Some young parents have chosen to be parents at a young age. Some young people have found themselves in that situation. People don’t plan everything that happens to them.

I think for some, youth pregnancy and parenting symbolises a breakdown in society, innocence, stable families and the idea of marriage. Is being a young parent the end of the world? Well, if you’re asking me, it is the end of life as you know it, but definitely not the end of the world. The years spent on personal development during those early adult years are different but any parent, of any age who parents their child, will tell you that parenting brings huge personal development.

Professional Support offered for young parents who need help can range greatly. In a professional supporting role you may aid a parent in completing university studies. You may teach a young parent to cook a meal with fresh ingredients. Both are achievements with positive outcomes. Support is such an individual thing. It is about making that young parent the best version of themselves. Often support can be given by a stable, loving family. But that isn’t always possible. If you don’t talk to your family or your family has broken down; statistically if you haven’t done well in social expectancies, such as school or have emotional attachment needs that haven’t been met, that’s when the young parent and their child may have more difficulties. These are likely to be the young parents that need extra, more specialised support.

Reading this, you could be supporting young parents professionally, on the other side of the supportive spectrum you could be a lone voice who simply choses not to judge or somewhere in between. Collectively though, I believe we all know that one of the biggest, fundamental problems are the stigmas that young parents face from society, media, their peers and sometimes even themselves. I think the social stigmas come from society’s collective dislike of children under 16 years old and even young people over this age who may not be considered mature, having sex. Young parents, sadly, often receive negative reactions.

For young people who are becoming parents, the foundations of a positive pregnancy need to be aimed for early on. If a young woman is insecure about her pregnancy she has the potential to become a home bound young mother. It is a fact that disadvantaged women, either socially, emotionally and/or economically are more likely to get pregnant at a younger age and go on to have a baby. As a consequence there are higher rates of social exclusion for young parents and their children.

However, I believe that young parents, when supported, can be very good parents. When I say supported I don’t mean every young parent needs a social worker and strict monitoring. Support, of course, can be that and there’s nothing wrong with it but, support can be as little but, hugely significant as when you see a young mum at a group you attend and, you say hi! She’s a mum who has got out of the house in one piece! Hurrah to her and hurrah to you. See? You have something in common!

I believe that the poverty within young families is real. Whilst many young parents go onto achieve great things, that they may never have done if they hadn’t become a parent at a young age, there is no denying the immaturity in development and education could cause a deficit in met care needs – even if just for a while! This is true though, of many new parents in today’s climate – we’re all struggling in our 20’s, our 30’s, my parents are still struggling in their 50’s. However, we can’t be complacent about the need to encourage young parents to succeed and break the cycle of children being born to young parents in poverty and becoming young parents in poverty themselves. By encouraging change in the social structure parents in poverty allow themselves to live in and the society of which they deem themselves worthy of this would have a huge influence on the outcome for each young parent and their children. A person’s self esteem needs to be supported when they are pregnant and through parenting for achievements to be accomplished. Then, often, those achievements will bring new and higher standards.

Many of the most vulnerable young parents don’t want or think they need the help. Whilst, as professionals, you (mostly) can’t force it, the excuse of, ‘they don’t want help’ ect can be very dangerous in aiding the stigma that many are working to abolish. When you’re finding it hard to engage a young person it is often important to step back and go ‘back to basics’ that, you might skip past because of time constraints, for example. What life has this young person lead? Is testing boundaries being perceived as being difficult and not wanting help, consequently continuing this young parents socioeconomic pattern? Any person who doesn’t complete a developmental stage, such as learning boundaries, will often, subconsciously, repeat the same patterns again and again. In your role, is your perception of that person aiding stigma or can you see past it, even when you’re being pushed to your limits?

As a young mum, what key things do I think need implementation for best practice in today’s rapidly evolving modern world? Language spoken and body language when in a supportive role is highly important when initialising first and subsequent contact. I can tell, quite quickly, if someone is supporting me as a young mum who has to have intervention or as a mum who is receiving support and just happens to be young. The difference is huge. The first may conclude in me not feeling supported and ending up quite frustrated. This frustration, no matter how hard I try to put it to the back of my mind, then impacts on the children in my care meaning the support has been counterproductive. The second may result in me feeling understood and in turn my positivity, making a happier, more productive household for the rest of the day.

The importance of the way you, as a professional, present yourself, your attitude, openness and clear explanations cannot be under estimated. Again, going back to basics is fundamental as not everyone understands abbreviations, for example, that you use without thinking about it! Your knowledge is often secondary. Listen to that person. If you don’t know, tell them, ‘I don’t know but I will find out and let you know,’ and do follow it through! You cannot expect a young parent to understand their limitations and accept help if you don’t understand your limitations of knowledge and when you need to gain greater understanding to help that young parent. I believe a person in a supportive role knows two things. One, the person you are supporting is the expert of their own situation. Two, you and the young parent can never stop learning from each other.

I think supporting bodies also need to make the best they can of their continuity in care policies. Personally, during a five month period, my son has been assigned two different social workers. This can’t always be helped and support should be about moving along and being present in the ‘real world’ but do bear in mind that the people who are in need of support are often vulnerable people who can be adverse to change. If there needs to be a handover of support what could you do to aid the transition as smoothly as possible? A joint visit for handover? A telephone call update rather than an email? A face-to-face meeting rather than a phone call? Every little step forwards makes change and improves best practice and thus raises the standards for those you are handing over to.

I further think it’s important to understand where young people find their knowledge too, then to look at what you could also engage with to empower this young person. A lot of the people you come into contact with may not have a support network. These days, though, young people can access support through seach engines, Facebook, Twitter and watch TV a lot of the time through their phone or on smartphone apps. Texting is fast, easier and often cheaper and emails are accessed quicker than it takes to dial a number these days. At 3am support is found on Twitter #NightFeeds, through apps and Facebook. If I need to contact someone I text them in the evening, when I’ve finally sat down, as they will pick it up in the morning and I’m less likely to disturb them. A text or email fits into daily life even when the children are screaming and I don’t have time to make the call before the office shuts. If you can recognise and, actually embrace, that social media, apps and typing forms of communication are a good thing, then you will be benefitting your services. This is the way the world is now, if you don’t embrace it, I would go as far as to say that you are not fully satisfying your duty of care.

Young people have whole support networks spanning miles with overseas connections becoming the norm. There are great examples of support that have correct information such as a new app for young parents in pregnancy and through early stages of parenting that the charity Best Beginnings have made called Baby Buddy. Social media isn’t all about worst case scenarios, panicking parents with incorrect information that you have to reassure against anymore.

Now, I would like to revisit my first paragraph with you. Whilst true, it is not the full story. I hope that it will reiterate that the brief synopsis you may receive of a person needing support may not always give you the full story: I am Emilie, I do have four children, two are alive and two are not. The two that are alive were born very prematurely at 27 weeks and 28 weeks retrospectively. My son, born at 27 weeks, is categorised as disabled and I had to stop working my consistent and set hours to become his carer. I have gone from being totally self-sufficient, supporting myself, my children and home on my wage (on which I paid tax) to now claiming disability benefits and spending my days, normally in some hospital waiting room whilst working hours that suit my family, when I can. I do live on a council estate by fluke and I live in an ex-council property, I wasn’t ‘given’ it because of my situation. My husband couldn’t handle the loss of two babies and the health needs of the others and his path in life, unfortunately, took him on a journey away from his family.

Originally I knew I was a young mum but I didn’t feel like one as I was married to someone older with my own home and a job in the social services field, I was offered help but I was determined I had it all sorted, and I did. When I was on my own with a son who had complexed needs I realised I needed help. It took six months for me to accept it. I fought on saying, ‘I can cope.’ Eventually my son’s health took a turn for the worst and I was in a bad place emotionally and also with my employer for being off work so frequently. Like most young parents I wasn’t a bad mum but I needed help to be the best version of myself and I had to accept and embrace it, or carry on and ultimately end up having it imposed upon me. So, my family helped in practical ways by cooking me meals for the freezer etc. Before I finally gave into flexible working I received anti-depressants, counselling and financial help with childcare so I could try and continue to work set hours. My health visitor would visit at home on my day off to make life a little bit easier for me. Support for my children was very much at the forefront. Support for me became secondary. Upon giving up work I set up a website: http://www.MummyMai.com and started to blog about premature birth, loss, parenting a child with complexed needs as a single and young parent and everything inbetween. I also took to Twitter, @Emilie_Mai_ to gain wider support and to fill the loss of company from work friends and colleagues. But this didn’t help completely and I felt isolated. So I searched for people who I could talk to about my experiences with an aim to improve support for young people like myself.

I was signposted to and became in contact with the charity Best Beginnings (info@bestbeginnings.org.uk). Six months later I have talked at three conferences around neonatal provisions using the Best Beginnings Small Wonders DVD. I have tested the Baby Buddy app, and have been filmed for videos going into the app and I have even spoken at the launch night of Baby Buddy. I’ve been on BBC radio, in many national newspapers and Pregnancy and Parenting magazines and I’ve been invited to talk in secondary schools, at Hertfordshire university and also at Bedford university. I have been empowered to talk about my story using social media and to, hopefully, help others with ex-professional and personal insight.

The help that I have received has made me happier and that impacts positively on our family life. I have been enabled to be the best version of myself as a person and a mother and empowered by the knowledge that I’m helping others too. Initially, I may appear to be a cliché young mum but that isn’t my full story and I am proud of who I am and of where I am going.

However, I could not have been the best version of me without help. Help ranging from my sons disability team Social Worker to the elderly lady from over the road who helped when I had a screaming child in each arm and I was trying to shut the boot of my car!

By Emilie-Mai first published on Mummy_Mai.com