Struggle, stigma … success? What it’s like to be a young parent today

Posted by Kate Maher / Friday 13 October 2017 / Mental health Children's centres

Young parents, like any other parents, want the absolute best for their children. They have dreams about their futures, and are prepared to try hard to achieve them. But some face challenges that other young people and older parents may not. 

The political focus in previous years has centred firmly on reducing teenage pregnancy, and, whilst the teenage pregnancy rate has dropped significantly, it’s not the end of the story. 

The UK still has the highest teenage birth rate in Western Europe, and, what’s more, it’s not just teenage parents who can find things hard. Our new report, The Next Chapter: Young People and Parenthood, sheds light on the struggles young parents aged 20 to 25 can experience too. Despite this, they are eligible for less support. 

The need to support young parents back into education and employment in particular is underlined by our new findings. Only 1 in 10 young parents go to university, compared to 45% of young people who are not parents. And with only a third of young parents in skilled jobs, compared to half of their peers, young parents earn significantly less than non- parents their age. Yet they also have to cover the cost of raising a child, estimated to be more than £8,000 per year. It’s not surprising then that nearly 40% report they are only just getting by financially. 

"‘I think there is pressure from some people, who say that once your child is a certain age that you should go back to work. But you try and find a job, realistically, with school hours, it’s really hard, and they are few and far between. Those than can get a job, that’s great, I’d love to get one once they’re all at school. But they’re not easy to find.’"

Young mum, 25 

This impacts on the lives not only of the young parents themselves but their children too. Children growing up in poverty generally reach a lower level of development than their more affluent peers. And last year’s freeze on working-age benefits won’t help, with nearly 60 per cent of young parents relying on some form of benefits in order to make ends meet. 

Young parents also have to deal with negative social attitudes toward young parenthood, which can affect their relationships with loved ones and make them reluctant to admit that they’re struggling and to ask for help. 

"‘They think that you’re young so you’re not going to do very well, so there’s a lot of pressure to prove everyone wrong.’"

Expectant mum, 19 

Young parents are acutely aware of the assumptions others can make about their parenting capacity. They are less likely to attend antenatal classes, despite the importance of such classes in preparing for parenthood. The young women we spoke to said they felt intimidated by regular antenatal classes and parent support groups, fearing that they would be judged by the professionals and other parents present.  

"‘I just didn’t really want to do the antenatal classes. I was put off by the assumption that they’d all be, you know, 30+ mums with a perfect little life, husband, all that.’"

Young mum, 25 (had her first child at 19) 

Dedicated young parent groups are important in that they facilitate opportunities for meeting other young parents in the same situation and sharing advice. Often operating out of children’s centres, they also offer the chance to engage with professional family support workers. Yet children’s centres have undergone significant cuts in recent years, which will have an impact on the level of support young parents can access. 

With nearly 450,000 young parents aged 25 and under in England today, the need to develop a solution is clear. We are calling on Government to ensure young parents can access the support they need and the opportunities they deserve. 

We’re recommending that:

  • Care to Learn [a childcare scheme for teenage parents] is extended to all young parents up to the age of 25 
  • Work coaches in job centres are trained to address the specific needs of young parents 
  • The Government reviews its working-age benefits freeze, in light of its impact on children and families 
  • The Government recognises the importance of children’s centres; and local authorities ensure that young parent support groups are offered in their children’s centres, inclusive of all young parents up to the age of 25. 

Young parents can then embark upon this next chapter of their lives with increased confidence, knowing that the necessary support is there – if they need it.

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To find out more about their lives, we spoke to young parents at Action for Children children’s centres across England. We also worked with the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath, to gain an understanding of existing research and to undertake analysis of the Next Steps longitudinal study. Next Steps follows the lives of around 15,000 people born in 1989-90, collecting information about their education and employment, economic circumstances, physical health, family life and social participation.

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