This essay aims to look at the issue of teenage pregnancy. It will first look at teenage pregnancy and then just how common it is in our society. Next, it will look at the statistics that the United Kingdom currently holds on teenage pregnancy, which will show why it is so important to combat this and try to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies as early as possible. It will go on to look at the strategies the Government has put in place to reduce teenage pregnancy and also ways in which the Government can help these vulnerable groups of children once they have given birth, for example, helping them back into education and supporting them with factors such as housing.
The occurrence of teenage pregnancy obviously relates to any pregnant female under the age of 20 years old. Young teenage girls become pregnant either with other young teenage males or sometimes with adults. Problems facing this group both before and after the child’s birth come from social factors, not to mention medical or physical concerns. Social factors could include culture, religious beliefs, financial circumstances, education and lack of support or understanding. As there has been a massive increase in teenage pregnancies, this is now becoming a social problem. As with their mothers not always finishing their education due to becoming pregnant, children of teenage mothers may be having poorer life outcomes, and there is now a higher rate of poverty in certain areas in the country, where there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy.
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In some areas, there may have been a social lack of support, which could have led to certain teenagers’ emotional and mental problems. Many believe that teenagers and others should not engage in getting pregnant until marriage (Polan 2003:32). As a result, many teenagers who become pregnant may not be married, which carries a lot of social stigmas, especially in teenagers of certain cultures. Some teenagers who become pregnant at an early age can have a challenging time and encounter many problems. Many face prejudice and stigma from their communities. In the United Kingdom, most teenage mothers live in poverty, and nearly half are in the bottom fifth of the income distribution (Huges 1999:23).
Unwanted or non-voluntary sex may have been one of the main reasons a young teenager has become pregnant; this could be because if the girl were so young when she became pregnant, she probably would not know or be ready actually to carry out sexual activities. Close to four in ten girls who had first intercourse at 13 or 14 reports it was either non-voluntary or unwanted. (Blank 2003:12). The teenage pregnancy issue must be addressed, with more and more young teenagers becoming pregnant. One of the ways to help these young teenagers is to try and get them to participate in a teenage prevention programme. Britain has the second-highest teenage birth rate in the developed world, with 32 mothers per 1,000 teenagers in 1998, a rate lower only than the U.S. (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre 2001).
This does affect the whole of the UK, but it seems that the poorest areas are more affected than anywhere else. The government has placed a Teenage Pregnancy Unit within the Department For Education, and it is hoped that once the unit is up and running, it will encourage the younger end of the teenagers. The government has put in place a 10-year strategy, and within this strategy is a plan to help support teenagers with their pregnancies and make sure they receive sex education. This is hoped that it will reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. All local authorities have in place a 10-year strategy to both prevent teenage pregnancies and support teenage parents. This includes local targets to reduce under 18 conceptions by between 40% and 60% (Department of Health 2002:19).
One of the governments’ main priorities is to try and lower the number of teenage pregnancies and all sexually transmitted infections that have become a problem in the last decade. One of the key focuses within the national healthy school’s programme is to make a framework for the outcomes for young people in their sexual behaviour, and what this means about their health, and this has been reinforced in the White Paper, which is called ‘Choosing Health; Making Healthy Choices Easier”. For the government’s ten-year strategic plan to work, they must start to prevent teenage pregnancies from trying and reducing the health implications of these young people and the baby. Also, teenage pregnancy is one of the major reasons these teenagers are becoming excluded from schools, and it is preventing girls from being equal to boys in trying to get jobs.
As these girls may not be able to get onto the social ladder for the higher paid jobs, this could result in many of these girls being dependent on social benefits; this could lead to child poverty and being socially excluded. Girls from the poorest backgrounds are ten times more likely to become teenage mothers than girls from professional backgrounds. 1 in every 10 babies born in England is to a teenage mother (National Centre For Health Statistics 2002:3). It could be said that babies that are born to mothers under the age of 18 are more likely to have an infant that is stillborn or dies in the first few months. Those children who do survive could have a high risk of growing up, experiencing poor health and living in poverty.
The younger a mother is when it starts her pregnancy, the more likely she is to have health problems, as the teenager’s body may not have completely developed, and it could be a lot harder for them to undergo the stress that is caused during the pregnancy. A study carried out by the World Health Organisation found that if the mothers pelvic is undersized because of incomplete growth, she may suffer prolonged or obstructed labour. (World Health Organisation 2002:12). 8,111 women under the age of 16 became pregnant in 2000: 161 upon 1999. Of these 8,111 pregnancies, 28% (2,285) of the females were 14 years or under, and just over half of the pregnancies ended in abortion (National Statistics 2003:12).
When looking at the statistics of teenage pregnancy, there clearly needs to be strategies put in place to help and support these vulnerable children. When the Labour government came into power in 1997, they introduced some strategies to ensure that is a vulnerable group of young people are included within the educational system. According to the Department of Health Report (2002), ‘Neighbourhood renewal programmes are in an ideal position to carry out teenage pregnancy work in a positive, integrated and holistic way. These broader issues – education, health, employment, community safety, and housing- play a crucial role in those choices (Department of Health, 2002: 23). What has the United Kingdom put in place to give these children the help and support which they need?
When the Government’s Ten Year Strategy plan was formed, one of the problems discussed was the teenage pregnancy crisis, so The Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) was put in place. In 1999, they produced a report that the Prime Minister, Tony Blaire, commissioned. The Prime Minister stated that the Social Exclusion Unit should “work with other departments, building on the work already undertaken by the Department of Health to develop an integrated strategy to cut rates of teenage parenthood, particularly under-age parenthood, towards the European average, and propose better solutions to combat the risk of social exclusion for vulnerable teenage parents and their children”. (Social Exclusion Unit 2000:12).
This report fetched about the national Teenage Pregnancy Strategy (TPS). The strategy shows that when teenagers become pregnant, they could become subject to being excluded from school, and there has to be a way to resolve this problem. This strategy is the first step towards agencies working together in order to try and work with teenagers, to help and support them in all the issues with which teenage pregnancies occur. Within this strategy, they aim to lower teenage pregnancies by at least half by 2010. They also hope to reduce the risk of long term social exclusion of teenage mothers by making options available in order for them to carry on with their education, such as childcare and any help and support that they may require.
Now that the teenage pregnancy strategy has received the ½60m invested in this programme, they should be able to start delivering what they promised. There are encouraging early signs that the Strategy is making a positive impact on teenage conception rates and the participation rates among teenage parents (Dfes 1999:12). In trying to reduce the teenage pregnancy rate, the Social Exclusion Unit is trying to achieve a programme, which will deliver better sex education; this is hopefully to take place both in and out of schools. In order to combat helping these teenagers back into education, the government must provide a range of programmes which would give these teenagers a reason to return to education, or to help them attend courses in order for them to find a job, also a service that would help them to find appropriate housing and any other support and advice that they may need.
2003 saw the introduction of the Government Green Paper, ‘Every Child Matters’; this laid down official guidance for the authorities and relevant agencies to follow and work from and was published alongside Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria Climbie`. The overall aim of this paper was not only to protect children like Victoria but to give these types of children the help and support that they need, along with a range of measures to meet and improve child care. There is also a strategy to give every young person the chance to improve their standards in life and be able to maximize every opportunity to utilize their potential fully.
To coincide with this thinking, it was decided to appoint a Director of Children’s Services; this role would involve the practitioner to be accountable for local authority education and children’s social services. While the Government has created a new position within the Department for Education and Skills, this would allow for policies to be coordinated across the government. Margaret Hodge M.P. is currently the Minister for Children. Responsibility for children’s social services, family policy, teenage pregnancy, family law and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services has been brought into the DfES (Every Child Matters:2003:45). In taking things forward, if the policies that have been put forward are to become successful and to achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes both for children and young people in their areas, then the 10-year strategy will have to both be agreed upon and implemented to achieve a reduction in teenage pregnancy.
The Teenager Pregnancy Strategy shows the first attempt at resolving not only the causes but the issues that face teenage parents, and this is the first time that both central and local Governments have acted in unison to address the issue; as previously stated, the targets are to halve the under 18 conception rate and gain a long term reduction in the under 16 rate by the year 2010. Furthermore, there is support and encouragement to these young parents to participate in education, training or employment to improve their chances of a higher standard of living and avoid social exclusion. The aims of the strategy are widely focused. Along with many other aspects, its purpose is to bring action groups together to support the pregnant teenager and appoint local Teenage Pregnancy Coordinators within each local authority to oversee the delivery of such assistance is beneficial and also to gain support and guidance from other outside agencies.
All over the country, there has been a nationwide media campaign not only through radio broadcasts but articles in teenage magazines and a dedicated phone helpline ‘Sexwise’ there is even a RETHINKING website to access (Kane 1999:21). This is also run in conjunction with improved sex and relationships education, introducing teenagers to family planning clinics to give sexual health advice and discuss contraceptives available. It all aims at the prevention of teenage pregnancy from the outset. Another side to the campaign works in conjunction and supports two outside agencies, one being Connexions and the other Sure Start Plus. These services offer advice and support and tailored maternity services and (in the 35 local authority areas with the highest conception rates) Sure Start Plus Advisors, here the recipients can receive support for childcare for those in education and training access to supported housing.
Sure Start Plus plays a leading role in the ‘better support for teenage parents’ section of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy. In doing so, Sure Start Plus provides an environment where combined groups of outside agencies can meet teenage parents and also provides a meeting place for such parents to get together at mother and toddler groups. In providing this service in such a wide-ranging manner, Sure Start Plus has to ensure that it does not duplicate services that are already made available and that it works hand in hand with existing agencies. Connexions are a national service set up for young people between the ages of 13-19 years. The aim of the service is to provide an integrated portfolio of advice, guidance and personnel development to this group and in much the same way that Sure Start Plus operates, they can call upon different outside organizations should this be the need. In the report ”Working Together, Connexions and Teenage Pregnancy”, published in 2001, Connexions and Sure Start Plus were set a joint target to increase the number of teenage parents aged 16-19 accessing training education and employment (Teenage Pregnancy Unit 2001:45).
Resolving the problem of teenage pregnancy will require a comprehensive and coordinated effort aimed at not only adolescents themselves but also at the political, economic, medical, educational and religious institutions whose systems and policies profoundly influence the underlying conditions that lead to adolescent pregnancy and child-bearing (Kane 1999:23). Further recommendations were also put forward in relation to schools teaching adolescents about sex and relationships within the framework for Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE); this was put forward by the DfES and supplemented with non-statutory guidance on SRE in the assistance of schools to achieve this objective. The object of PSHE is to give the teenager all the skills and knowledge available so as to avoid some of the negative outcomes in the years ahead as well as prevention of teenage pregnancy and related STIs.
In order for the DfES to achieve a high standard of PSHE and continued improvements within its delivery, there are ongoing professional development programmes (CPD) for teachers and community nurses who practice in this area. This approach also offers continued structure and guidance for the schools to help them in assessing what young people are learning in PSHE; and by enforcing the belief that schools that actually achieve a healthy school status must have a good understanding and be delivering an effective PSHE programme. When looking into the sexual behaviour of young people, it is important to take into consideration all the other factors involved with being a teenager and the ways that these young people feel they can control and shape their lives by their own actions and the surrounding support that they can call upon.
In some cases, the self-belief and confidence in the individual can be a deciding factor in taking advantage of any educational and employment opportunities made available; this could also contribute to the teenager becoming a teenage parent. The adolescent might also feel that they themselves do not have control of their future and that they are being conditioned for whatever may lie ahead; they may think that they can achieve little outside of parenthood. Obviously, there is still much research to be done relating to teenage parenthood, and there is a need for more details to be added to current policies to reduce some of the inequalities that these parents face; not every case is the same, and some teenage parents do have an acceptable standard of living or higher, but the situation has to be focused upon. Guidance updated to assist those most in need.
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