Today is the second annual publicly recognized day to honor and appreciate young parents in California, and New Mexico. HAPPY YOUNG PARENTS DAY!
As a former young mother myself, it is exciting to see this day exist, and in addition to honoring young parents everywhere, I want to honor the young parent advocates and their allies who have made this possible. This symbolic recognition signifies a move away from blame, stigma and shame to support, appreciation and recognition.
As a public health practitioner, it is incumbent upon me and my colleagues to examine our field and question assumptions. Some corners of the public health world still need to be disabused of the notion that teen pregnancy is a causal link in the cycle of poverty.
While the research arm of public health has long acknowledged this thinking is flawed, too many still operate under the assumption that childbearing is a public health problem.
The International Epidemiological Association has been clear since 2002: “We do not agree that teenage pregnancy is shameful, nor do we believe that teenage pregnancy is (or is best conceptualized as) a public health problem; however, we do believe that the accumulative effect of social and economic exclusion on the health of mothers and their babies, whatever their age, is.”
“… opportunities, support, and services should be available to women regardless of their age and regardless of whether or not they have children. Provision should suit and support the reality of women’s lives, rather than limit their opportunities and choices unless they organize their reproduction in a socially acceptable way. Changing society’s attitude towards young women and their reproductive choices may facilitate better opportunities and support, labeling them as a public health problem is unlikely to… Concerted efforts to reduce poverty and inequalities- a clear public health threat- for women and men of all ages is clearly where public health policy should be focused.” 1 (pp558-559)
As people who are in the business of preventing disease and injury, we have no business trafficking in shame and stigma. One would think that lesson had been learned, but recent “public health” campaigns against teen parents and their progeny, along with persistent stigmatizing terminology (teenage pregnancy prevention—as though it is a disease), reveal that there is more work yet to be done.
CAHC is so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some fearless young mamas who are engaging in that labor on the regular. Bre’Jaynae Joiner, CAHC research associate, has recently returned to our team to support two of our projects, H-REP and YMR. She juggles this work with her school, parenting, and family duties with grace and strength.
We are also so pleased to work with Natasha Vianna, and the amazing collective #NoTeenShame on collaborative projects that we are currently dreaming up. Please check out their website for lots more information on how to support young parents, how to fight the stigma against them, and a video of a teach-in to learn more about the issue.
-Alison Chopel, CAHC Director