1. Fields, Bonnie J. PhD, MBA, RN

Article Content

There are several reasons why caution should be exercised before blindly supporting the provision of school-based services for teen mothers. While it might seem intuitive that these services are essential, we should know if the programs make a difference in the lives of teen mothers and their children before schools use their scarce resources to develop such programs.


First, outcome studies documenting the effects of school-based support services (particularly childcare services to teen mothers) are lacking (Sadler, Swartz, & Ryan-Krause, 2003). While it is well documented that high-quality childcare can positively influence the development of children of adolescent parents (and have lasting effects) (Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2000), researchers have not examined whether school-based childcare services have an effect that is different than other high-quality childcare found in the community. Proponents of these programs argue that teen mothers cannot afford quality childcare. Admittedly, school-based childcare centers are generally free to teens who maintain enrollment in school, but many states already subsidize high-quality childcare for parents (including teens) who meet certain socio-economic criteria (Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2000). Without the evidence that these school-based childcare services positively influence outcomes such as child health, child development, and parental competence, it is not possible to advocate establishing these support services in schools.


The second argument against the establishment of school-based services relates to the cost of those services. In an economic environment where competition for school funds is high, and academic programs that benefit all students (e.g., physical education classes, music, fine arts classes) are at risk for elimination, it is difficult to justify the expense of establishing school-based services for a highly select population such as teen mothers. Interdisciplinary support services such as childcare centers and clinics are expensive. Partnerships with other community agencies, corporations, and foundations can help to share a percentage of the cost, but most school-based support services rely on funding from local school districts (Dellanno, Kaye, & Philliber, 1999).


There are two alternate, but less persuasive arguments against school-based support services. The first focuses on the effects of teen mother support services on the school community as a whole. One can argue that by offering the support services to teen mothers, the school condones the behavior that led to the need for the services; this is a mixed message to all students, particularly when many schools advocate an abstinence-based approach to sex education. Furthermore, the school community could be negatively influenced if support services for teen mothers are opposed by some within the community. A community's political, religious, and social beliefs may directly influence the use and acceptability of these support services (Lindly, Reininger, & Saunders, 2001).


The final argument deals with the lack of continuity of support services during school vacations. Schools generally follow a 9-month academic calendar; thus, school-based services are generally unavailable to teen mothers during holidays and the months of summer. Thus, the very programs that were designed to provide continuity and support to teen mothers may be unavailable during these times. The result may be that the teens are left searching for new sources of support, presenting problems for adolescent mothers who may need to find intermittent childcare or healthcare services for themselves and their children during these time periods. Teen mothers may be forced to rely on other family members (e.g., grandparents, siblings) to care for their children, or they may choose to delay necessary health supervision visits due to accessibility and availability.


A more prudent approach to providing important support services to teen mothers would be to link schools with existing community agencies that can provide the services and continuity necessary for supporting teen mothers and their children.




Dellanno, D. F., Kaye, J. W., Philliber, S. (1999). Student and faculty attitudes toward a program for teenage parents and their children. Social Work in Education, 21( 2), 108-117. [Context Link]


Lindley, L. L., Reininger, B. M., Saunders, R. P. (2001). Support for school-based reproductive health services among South Carolina voters. The Journal of School Health, 71( 2), 66-72. [Context Link]


Peisner-Feinberg, E. S., Burchinal, M. R., Clifford, R. M., Culkin, M. L., Howes, C., Kagan, S. L., et al. (2000). The children of the cost, quality, and outcomes study go to school: Technical report. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. [Context Link]


Sadler, L. S., Swartz, M. K., Ryan-Krause, P. (2003). Supporting adolescent mothers and their children through a high school-based child care center and parent support program. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 17( 3), 109-117. [Context Link]