«The Invisible Students Young Parents in Education By Sinéad Riordan, The Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology ...»
(iii) The lack of consideration given to aspects of young parents lives in compiling definitions of ‘at risk’ particularly with regard to early school leaving;
(iv) The absence of guidelines addressing how management of schools and other relevant education and training agencies can best meet the needs of pregnant schoolgirls and young parents; and (v) Uncertainty by policy makers as to how to treat teenage mothers and fathers.
1996; Milne-Home et al., 1997). There are significant differences between the needs of teenage parents’ aged 18 or 19 years and those aged less than 16 years. Young parents who are aged 18 years plus are more likely to have a higher incidence of birth14 and are in a different social and legal position with regard to their decision making capacity, self-identity, ability to claim benefits, employment and educational status.
This distinction between the opportunities available to young persons aged less than 18 years and those older than this, is particularly relevant to the discussion on education and training opportunities available for young parents. Age based criteria are used in many of the alternative education and training programmes offered in Ireland (outside of mainstream education) to define who can access such programmes and more significantly, receive additional financial support while participating in the programme. Such criteria appear to work to preclude some young parents from accessing alternative forms of education.
4.3.2. Data deficiencies Considerable shortcomings are notable in the official collection of ‘family’ statistics in general in Ireland.15 Although a growing body of data exists on lone parents there are still noticeable deficiencies (NESF, 2001)16 and few data are available on young parents. Existing data deficiencies contribute to the ‘absence’ of young parents from educational policies. The lack of data is particularly acute in relation to young fathers. No information is collected on single fathers in the Census, the Quarterly Household Survey, Vital Statistics or the Living in Ireland Survey. Information is collected on the age of mothers at the birth of each child but not on the age of the father. While information is collected on the participation of single mothers in the labour market, little or nothing is gathered on the participation of single fathers and little is known about their levels of educational attainment.
Lack of knowledge regarding the number, geographic location, age, family status et cetera, of young parents renders effective targeting of resources virtually impossible at national, regional and local level.
This paper supports Galligan’s (2000) call for the development and implementation of a range of gender equality indicators in the area of education including the collection of data on the percentage of teenage mothers and fathers in full-time education in order to overcome these gaps in knowledge.
14 In Ireland in 1999, 75% of all births to parents under 20 years of age were to women aged 18 or 19 years (Joint Committee on Social, Committee and Family Affairs, 2001:14).
15 This arises partly from the way official statistics count and collect information on families in general and lone parent households specifically, as well as deficiencies in data collected on participation in, and usage of, programmes and services (McKeown, 1998; 2001).
16 NESF (2001) called for greater coverage of lone parenthood in official statistics including the Census of Population and the Quarterly National Household Survey. It suggested that additional information be gathered on fathers as well as mothers at the birth of each child and information on household status, marital status and the education and employment status of both parents.
32 4.3.3. Inadequate definitions of ‘at risk’ A key focus of recent educational policies is on ensuring the retention of all young people in school until they are at least eighteen years or have acquired a formal qualification. In order to achieve this objective, educational policies are targeted at particular groups especially those considered ‘at risk’ of negative educational outcomes. However, many aspects of young parents’ lives (particularly as they relate to young women) are not addressed by the definitions of ‘at risk’ used to monitor agency specific outcomes (for example, those used by health, education and social services).
The issue of teenage pregnancy and parenthood are currently outside the operational definitions used in educational policies to define ‘at risk’, although these clearly impact on girl’s and boys ability to remain in education.17 Where definitions of ‘at risk’ exclude these factors, strategies for addressing students deemed to be ‘at risk’ clearly lack an appreciation of these related issues and their impacts (Milne-Home et al., 1997). Hamburg (1986) recommends the use of the term ‘school age pregnancy’ as opposed to ‘teenage pregnancy’ when discussing the educational needs of young parents, arguing that the former gives a better sense of the risks arising from pregnancy for a school-age girl.18 This terminology is used in the UK by the Department of Education and Skills in its initiatives to re-integrate school age parents into education.
4.3.4. Lack of guidelines for educational and training organisations There are no specific rules or guidelines in Ireland for the treatment of pregnant and parenting teenagers by second level school authorities. This is a key omission as anecdotal evidence suggests that some school authorities use this absence of guidelines to implicitly or explicitly discourage pregnant schoolgirls from continuing in school, particularly during pregnancy.19 The report of the UK Social Exclusion Unit on teenage pregnancy (1999) found that the lack of guidelines on these issues were a contributing factor to the exclusion of young parents from education. In order to address this deficit, joint guidance from the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills were issued in 2001 to all schools and Local Education Authorities on how to support school-age parents in education.
4.3.5. Political context It is arguable that social policy in Ireland is unsure how to treat teenage mothers. This ambiguity stems in part from society’s deep ambivalence about adolescent sexuality and preference for 17 The Green Paper on Lifelong Learning (1998) defines girls ‘at risk’ as those not completing secondary education and therefore less likely to be in long-term employment or training programmes leading to improved employability and higher income brackets.
18 These risks do not apply in the same way for 18 and 19 year old females who are legally considered to be adults.
‘traditional’ family forms, in particular, "a historical ambiguity over the status of lone mothers" (Standing, 1999:483). Adolescent sexuality is ‘not supposed’ to occur yet a pregnant adolescent directly confronts this assumption and challenges dominant cultural norms. Anecdotal evidence suggests that within mainstream, second level schools the approach to teenage parents and the underlying attitudes vary widely. While some schools are very supportive, others implicitly discourage young women from staying at school. Even within national initiatives and strategies that seek to achieve gender equality in Ireland (particularly for women), minimal attention is paid to teenage mothers.
Section five National and local education initiatives and financial supports available to young parents 35
5. Introduction This section describes the main alternative education and training programmes offering ‘second chance’ education and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of these programmes in terms of meeting the educational support needs of young parents.
5.1. National initiatives and schemes Key national initiatives and schemes specifically aimed at increasing retention levels within postprimary education or facilitating access to ‘second chance’ or alternative education are described below.
• Home Tuition Scheme A welcome development is the newly announced Home Tuition Scheme funded by the Department of Education and Science (DES). Under this scheme, all post primary students who require home tuition for one reason or another are entitled to 9 hours per week for 10 weeks.
Parents of students must apply to the Department for funding, once they receive this, parents pay the Home Tuition teacher directly. This new scheme may meet the need for home schooling experienced by some young parents in the months immediately prior to and after birth. It’s explicit identification of ‘pregnancy’ as a circumstance that may lead to a need for home tuition for a student is particularly welcome.20
• Stay in School Retention Initiative The Department of Education and Science’s 2001 review of ‘Educational Initiatives to Combat Disadvantage’ states that issues surrounding young parents participation in education and training will be met through the Stay in School Retention Initiative.21 The Initiative is aimed at increasing the retention rate to completion of senior cycle and priority is given to schools and vocational education community schools with retention rates appreciably below the national average. Little information is available to-date on the extent to which schools participating in the Initiative have targeted young parents as a priority group to benefit from in-school and outof-school programmes.
• Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) The Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) is administered by the Department of Education and Science and provides second chance education courses for up to two years in Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Post Leaving Certificate and City and Guilds 20 The Home Tuition Scheme provides individual tuition for those who because of illness or pregnancy may be out of school for some time (NESF, 2001:67) 21 This initiative was amalgamated with the 8 – 15 Year Olds Early School Leavers Initiative into the new School Completion Programme in 2001.Work will include same-day tracking, after-school, family support, staff development, literacy and numeracy.
36 Certificates.22 It is viewed as particularly suitable for those "who have been out of school for some time" (DSCFA, SW 70:1). A key barrier is that VTOS is only open to those aged 21 years plus thereby excluding young parents aged less than this, who as McCashin (1997) argues, are the very category of lone parents whose familiarity with the formal school system is most recent and thus most likely to find it easier to re-integrate and participate in it.
• Youthreach Youthreach is targeted at young people between the ages of 15 and 18 who left the formal educational system with minimal or no qualifications, who are unemployed for six months or more and socially disadvantaged. Young parents (or any persons) aged 18 – 20 years are unable to participate in the scheme. This is seen as unfortunate by those who argue that the holistic approach followed by Youthreach combined with its emphasis on building on the skills of participants may offer a more appealing route back to education for some young parents (McCashin, 1997).23
• Post Leaving Certificate Courses and Colleges Post Leaving Certificate colleges (PLC) may also act as a key pathway for young parents wishing to progress to third-level education. These courses are already recognised as offering a valuable alternative to young persons (aged less than 21 years) wishing to gain further vocational skills and training without attending a ‘traditional’ University setting.24 5.1.1. Regional or local based initiatives Other initiatives seeking to address aspects of young parents educational support needs are primarily located in the community and voluntary and local development sectors. Many of these are offered through youth programmes and other such schemes. Examples of these schemes are provided in Boxes Five and Six.
22 VTOS is administered by the Department of Education and Science and operated through the VEC’s.
23 A newly developed partnership arrangement between Dublin City Council, Youthreach, FAS and local community and statutory agencies illustrates the potential inherent in Youthreach to meet the education and training needs of young persons. The Fast Track to Information Technology (FTIT) programme will be offered through Youthreach to persons aged 17 – 20 years who wish to obtain information technology skills.
The Waterford Young Mother’s Group has been in operation since 1997 and functions as a Community Partnership between the local schools, St Joseph’s Day Care Centre, parents groups, the South Eastern Health Board, Waterford Area Partnership, the DSFA and the young mothers. It provides a support service for teenage mothers currently within the school system. The aim is to enable young girls, who are pregnant or have babies, to recognise the benefits of education, remain in mainstream education and break dependence on the State in the long term.
Initiatives working to support young parents or pregnant teens (at national and local level)
participation in education and training include:
• Teenage Parents Support Project pilot projects in Dublin, Limerick and Galway;
• Muirhevnamor Mhór, Dundalk, Co. Louth;
• Moving Young Mothers into Education Project, Galway City;
• An Cosaín, Tallaght, Co. Dublin; and
• Youth Horizons, Tallaght, Co. Dublin.
Several calls have been made for priority action to be taken to support locally based integrated networks to develop strategic approaches to tackling educational disadvantage and early school leaving (McCashin, 1997; Open Your Eyes to Child Poverty, 2001). The boxes below provide details of a number of regional or local initiatives currently operating.