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«The Invisible Students Young Parents in Education By Sinéad Riordan, The Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology ...»

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Caring responsibilities arising directly from parenthood may also impact upon a person’s attachment to the labour market or education. Motherhood itself may become an exclusionary factor for young women because of the lack of childcare and child friendly practices in places of education and training. Studies in both Ireland and the UK have observed that some young parents actively choose parenting as their ‘career’ for the immediate future thereby choosing not to continue or engage in education or employment (McCashin, 1997; Kiernan, 1995). However, young parents’ decision not to participate in education or training may be driven by a number of different factors.

Community and family values may impact upon young parents’ decision 21 whether to remain at home or return to education or employment.

Communities may differ on the ‘most acceptable’ option for young mothers to follow – some may place greater value on young mothers ‘staying at home’ with their child while others may prioritise participation in employment or return to some form of ‘paid’ education

3.2. Factors influencing young parents decisions to participate in education and training In order to benefit from appropriate educational opportunities and experiences the specific educational support needs and barriers encountered by young parents must be recognised and acknowledged within policies and services. National and international research identifies a range of barriers and factors that may serve to negatively influence young parents’ decision to

participate in education or training. These include:

(i) Family, social and cultural factors; and (ii) Structural and institutional factors.

3.2.1. Family, social and cultural factors These are factors that derive primarily from individual choices or preference or the influence of individual, familial or community values. With regard to young parents’ participation in education,

factors that may negatively influence participation include:

1. A lack of parental support: parental support is identified as a key factor enabling students to cope with the stresses of new parenthood and to continue in education. Young mothers’ choices in education, training or employment can be restricted by the extent and level of family support, particularly where they are dependent upon family support (especially with childcare) to facilitate these choices (Phoenix, 1991; SEU, 1999; Report of the Limerick Teen Parenting Project, 2000);

2. The impact of cultural and value differences on young people’s decisions to participate in education. Community and family values may impact upon young parents’ decision whether to remain at home or return to education or employment. Communities may differ on the ‘most acceptable’ option for young mothers to follow – some may place greater value on young mothers ‘staying at home’ with their child while others may prioritise participation in employment or return to some form of ‘paid’ education for example, Youthreach (O’Brien, 1990);

3. Social constructions of ‘good mothering’: young women may not wish to return to employment or education during the early years of their child’s life expressing a preference for remaining at home during these years. However, this preference may be driven by an understanding that this is what is expected of them (Phoenix, 1991), and;

4. Social stigma: The social stigmatisation that may arise from teenage pregnancy may serve to allow adolescent girls to ‘drop out’ out of school for example, by creating the perception that pregnant schoolgirls should not be seen in schools. This in turn may be linked to the ‘disappearance’ of teenage mothers from opportunities for education and training (Milne-Home et al., 1997).

22 Many of these factors can be positively affected or impacted upon through the provision of practical support and encouragement including providing information and advice, assistance with childcare costs and access to childcare. This support may be received not only from family members but also from school personnel, Home School Liaison Officers and key workers including TPSI project workers.

3.2.2. Structural and institutional factors Structural or institutional factors include those that arise as a result of the administration or functioning of particular systems for example the social welfare, taxation or education systems.

With regard to young parents’ participation in education, factors that may negatively influence

participation include:

1. The exclusion of school going mothers-to-be from the formal educational system during pregnancy: The response by a school to a pupil’s pregnancy plays a significant part in determining the extent and nature of the pupil’s involvement in mainstream education.

Exclusion may occur from a reluctance on the part of schools to accept pregnant schoolgirls particularly in the absence of specific guidelines on the treatment of pregnant schoolgirls, a lack of suitable facilities in schools for pregnant schoolgirls or teenage mothers, and negative staff attitudes (SEU, 1999; Working Group on Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood, 2000; Joint Committee on Social, Committee and Family Affairs, 2001);

2. Negative school experiences: Students who become young parents and who have a history of negative experiences of school may be more likely to leave school early (O’Brien, 1990; Boldt, 1994). In order to assist those who were previously disengaged from school prior to pregnancy, agencies must work to counteract a history of possibly negative school experiences as well as overcoming any obstacles arising from their status as a young parent;

3. Lack of childcare: the lack of quality affordable childcare is a key factor in determining whether or not young parents return to education or training after the birth of their child. A number of reports have noted that reimbursement of childcare costs is essential if participation in education or training is to become a realistic option for young parents (Joint Committee on Social, Committee and Family Affairs, 2001; NESF, 2001; Dempsey, 2001);

4. The limited availability of home tuition or grinds to enable schoolgirls to ‘make-up’ for time lost during "maternity leave" can also serve to discourage students from continuing in education as it may not be possible for them to complete their full curriculum due to the limited number of hours available per week for home tuition and the limited numbers of tutors (Social Exclusion Unit, 1999);

5. The requirement for full-time participation in education as part of the entry criteria to mainstream second level education and particular second chance training and education programmes can act as a deterrent to participation. Most courses provided by mainstream training agencies are full-time and follow a normal working week pattern of provision (Monday 23 to Friday, 9 – 5pm). This model of provision is often unsuitable for those parenting alone without access to childcare and where parents own preference is to study or train part-time (NESF, 2001);

6. The complexity of the welfare benefits system: The amount of financial assistance received can significantly influence a young person’s decision whether to remain or return to education or training.3 The pull to receive income may be greater than the push to remain in second level education (Lynch, 1999) and this may influence a young parent’s final choice on whether to return to mainstream education (where if they are under 18 years and a lone parent, they will receive no allowance or financial support other than the One Parent Family Payment) or participate in a training programme where they will receive an additional training allowance.

When the choices made by a young parent negatively affect their entitlement to secondary benefits, this can have a significant impact on a young parent’s decision on whether to return, resume or continue in education and training (NESF, 2001);4

7. Current age criteria for entry to training or ‘second chance’ education programmes serve to exclude many young parents. Many existing training schemes have an age criterion of 21 or over or require a young person to be out of school for two years to participate in the scheme.

These criteria effectively exclude those who are either too young to participate or who have not been out of school for the required minimum time (McCashin, 1997; Joint Committee on Social, Community and Family Affairs, 2001);

8. Lack of external counselling and support programmes: there is a clear gap in service provision in this area (Report of the Limerick Teen Parenting Project, 2000). One of the main conclusions of the Waterford Student Mothers’ Group5 is that where counselling, childcare and peer support are available for young mothers, it is easier for them to stay in school and complete examinations (NESF, 2001, 68);

9. A lack of suitable accommodation: overcrowding or inadequate accommodation within multifamily households can impact upon a young parent’s ability to return to education or training (Waterford Student Mothers’ Group, 2001); and

10.Access to transport: the availability of transport to allow young parents to access to alternative schooling or training schemes is an important enabling factor particularly for those residing in remote rural areas.

3 The nature and level of benefits which pregnant or parenting teenagers may be entitled to are also dependent upon a number of other factors, such as the age and personal circumstances of a young parent.

4 The most often mentioned secondary benefits are rent allowance or rent/mortgage interest supplements, medical card and the Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowances.

5 See Section 5 for a fuller description of this group.


3.3. Promoting equality of opportunity for minorities Teen parents do not necessarily form a homogenous group and policies and strategies to promote their ongoing participation in education must take into account the different needs of teen parents from minority groups. These groups may include pregnant or parenting teenage refugees or asylum seekers, particularly those who are unaccompanied minors, and Travellers. It is important to consider how best to strengthen existing strategies or options such as second level education to increase their relevance for these groups in general, but also how best to provide the additional support needed for those who are pregnant or parenting.

Young parents who are refugees or asylum seekers may be particularly vulnerable and face many of the barriers identified in Section 3.2.1 and For some, there will be little or no support from family members while others may have experienced gross levels of trauma in their country of origin. Key personnel working with pregnant or parenting teenagers from these groups identify schools as a major source of support and note the high degree of motivation expressed by these young people regarding entering, continuing or returning to education. Key issues and strategies to

be considered in supporting these young parents may include:

• The provision of anti-racist and anti-discrimination training for teachers and implementation of an inter-cultural approach to education (NESF, 2002:107);

• The establishment of a tracking system to see how Traveller children and young people from other minorities and young people with special needs are progressing through the education system (NESF, 2002:107). This will in part, enable policymakers and service providers to determine the extent to which pregnancy and parenthood impact upon these young people’s participation in education and training;

• Additional resources to provide English classes and overcome language barriers (personal communication, TPSI project worker; IVEA, 2001);

• Access to home tuition for young parents who are not in a position to attend mainstream second level schools, particularly specialist English language teachers (personal communication, TPSI project worker);

• Increased availability of support time to deal with queries extra tutorial time for weaker students and availability of grinds to assist in students exam preparations (IVEA, 2001); and

• Greater access to psychological and counselling services through schools and training centres (personal communication, TPSI Project Worker; IVEA, 2001).

Refugees, asylum seekers or other non-national children are entitled to primary or post-primary education.6 6 Approximately 20% of all asylum seekers are under 19 years of age and approximately 25% of these are of postprimary age. Provision of educational services throughout the country varies from VEC to VEC - where a large number of persons from these groups are based, educational provision is better organised and better reflects the needs of this target group (IVEA, 2001). 71.5% of the VECs surveyed by the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) were actively involved in the provision of educational services to refugees, asylum seekers or other nonnationals.

Section four

Policy context26

4. Introduction

This section examines some of the range of different policies that may impact upon pregnant and parenting teenagers’ participation in or access to education and training. Plotnick (1993) argues that "services and incentives provided by social policies significantly affect teenage pregnancy and child-bearing outcomes", although this view is challenged by those who warn of the complexity of relationship between policies and demographic outcomes (Hantrais, 1994). Participation by teenage parents in education or training ultimately occurs within the framework provided by existing structural, economic and ideological constraints.

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