«The Invisible Students Young Parents in Education By Sinéad Riordan, The Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology ...»
• Nearly 21% (n = 18) had completed the Leaving Certificate; some of whom (n = 7) were participating in some form of third level education (for example, Post Leaving Certificate Courses).
6.1.2. Limerick TPSI Information was available on the educational status of 85 participants (79% of total participants by end of June 2002). Thirty (28%) of the young parents were not engaged in education or training
at the end of June 2002. Of these:
44 • 12 had completed their Leaving Certificate;
• 11 had completed their Junior Certificate;
• 3 had completed only primary level education; and • 4 were on a ‘year out’ and information was unavailable as to their highest level of education completed.
Of the 55 young parents in education or training at the end of June 2002:
• 29% (n = 16) of young parents were still in mainstream second level education;
• 53% (n = 29) were engaged in alternative education or training programmes namely, Youthreach (n = 27) and FAS (n = 2) programmes. Of these, 4 had completed the Junior Certificate, 2 had left school with only primary level qualifications and information is unknown on the educational status of 29 of these participants; and • 18% (n = 10) were in third level education.
6.1.3. Galway TPSI Data were available on the highest level of education completed of 152 participants (70% of total
participants by end of June 2002). Of these:
• 88 had completed their Leaving Certificate;
• 20 had completed their Junior Certificate only; and • 6 had completed primary level education only.
Seventy-seven participants (36% of total participants at Galway project) were involved with
education and training at the end of June 2002. Of these:
• 41 were in mainstream second level education and a number of these were also participating in the Young Mothers in Education Group;
• 17 were engaged in third level education;
• 16 were engaged in alternative education or training programmes (for example, FAS, Youthreach hairdressing courses et cetera); and • 3 were engaged in post leaving certificate courses.
Forty-three young parents were participating in employment (23 in full-time and 20 in part-time employment).
(i) Childcare The availability and accessibility of childcare has particular significance for school aged parents.
Difficulties in accessing affordable, quality childcare was repeatedly cited by young parents, their families and TPSI project workers as a key factor in determining whether or not young parents can participate in education or training.
I think the biggest barrier for anyone is that no schools have crèches with them – there’s just no crèches available. I’m working part-time at the moment but I want to go back to school. I was in college before I got pregnant and I want to go back next year. But at the moment there’s no crèche in the place, like if there was a crèche in the college I could go back whenever I want (Young mother, aged 20 years).
Major difficulties can arise in terms of:
• Having the financial means to pay for full time childcare;
• Being able to find affordable and quality childcare in their local area; and
• Being able to find childcare for younger children particularly infants aged less than one year.
Many teen parents rely upon their family to provide childcare to allow them to resume their education. However, where such family based childcare is not available, the majority of young parents need assistance with organising childcare and childcare expenses.
(ii) Financial support I mean, people want to go back to school anyway to try and get themselves off welfare. If the help isn’t there to go back to school you can’t get off welfare so then you’re just bumming off of them for a lot longer. I mean they should just put more help towards young mothers going back to school. I mean its fair enough you can say if you got yourself into trouble in the first place its your own fault……..so why should we spend our taxes and all that trying to get you back to school? But at the end of the day it’s either that or live off welfare for the rest of your life which costs a lot more in the long run, rather than money you use to get yourself finished in school and get yourself working (Young mother, aged 18 years).
Ensuring access to adequate financial support for pregnant schoolgirls and teen parents is identified as being of major importance by TPSI project workers. Financial barriers to participation in education can arise in a number of different lights both at the level of the young parent and for
education and training agencies including schools. Difficulties arise in relation to:
• Meeting childcare expenses;
• Paying for course fees and books;
• Paying for grinds: TPSI project workers noted that grinds for young mothers in second level education who are on maternity leave or those taking ‘time off’ following the birth of their child are considered essential by teachers. However, many students do not have the means to pay for such grinds and may fall behind in their studies as a result; and
• The different amounts of financial support available through social welfare supports depending on whether the young parent participates in mainstream second and third level education or training schemes.
Young parents who are full-time post-primary students are not automatically eligible to receive Supplementary Welfare Allowances (SWA) from Community Welfare Officers while they await payment of the One Parent Family Payment (OFP). Some choose to participate in training schemes such as Youthreach rather than return to mainstream second level education as they will receive a training allowance. Some return to such training schemes within a very short period after giving birth in order to claim their training allowance as one must attend a scheme full time to receive it.
No provision is made for participants to take maternity or parental leave. Choosing to stay at home following birth, generally means having to apply for the SWA. However, these payments have traditionally been lower than training allowances. For some, particularly those seeking to enter third-level education, it can make more sense to defer participation until they are aged 24 years of age due to the administration and criteria used to determine if a young person is eligible for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA).33 (iii) Barriers at school level While many schools respond admirably and support pregnant and parenting teens attending school, anecdotal evidence suggests that some schools discourage these teens from attending.
They were very supportive here in the school. Teachers were all really nice to you and you can wear tracksuits here like, in other schools you can get thrown out because you’re not wearing a skirt when you’re pregnant (Young mother, aged 16 years).
The most common barriers identified at school level include:
• Lack of guidelines for school management on treatment of pregnant teenagers or young parents: some have noted the difficulties posed for them in supporting young parents and pregnant schoolgirls by the absence to-date of any formal Health and Safety guidelines
concerning maternity leave for pupils, school uniforms and support provision. At present, it is left to the discretion of each individual school management to decide how to support them;
• Unwillingness on the part of schools to engage with pregnant teenagers or young parents for example, insisting upon pregnant teens wearing the full school uniform;
• Lack of suitable facilities within the school; and
• Need for additional financial support to help schools provide additional support for young parents.
Some of the parents interviewed as part of the evaluation would not return to their former schools for a variety of reasons including embarrassment and conflicts with school staff, yet some of these also found it difficult to enter educational programmes focused on adults.
I had been in school when I found out I was pregnant. I was in Leaving Certificate and it was March when I left which was probably a bit stupid but I didn’t feel like I could stay in school. Like all the younger girls are there and here’s me walking around pregnant – I just felt like I shouldn’t be there. But the teachers were the hardest thing for me. I felt like that they were looking down on me even though I was only 3 months pregnant and not really showing so probably a lot of them didn’t even know. It wasn’t the principal’s fault though, as I’d say he’d have been grand with it all but the rest of them, I couldn’t take them looking down on me like ‘oooh you’re only 17 and you’re pregnant’ – I felt like I had to leave (Young mother, aged 18 years).
Imaginative programmes that combined academic subjects, work experience, and intensive personal attention seemed to work best at sparking the interest and commitment of those who were not suited to mainstream second level education or adult education courses. Schedule flexibility was also imperative to enable the teen mothers to deal with sick children, childcare breakdowns, transportation problems and other crises.
Like I tried saying it to the teachers, "Look I can’t seriously to do this in 3 days with a baby and with study and whatever else" and they were like - there’s another girl in another course that has a baby as well but she happens to be 25, to be married you know? She’s living with the father so she can like "take him off me for half an hour" and go into the computer. I can’t do that but they just don’t seem to take that into account at all. Its like "oh if the other girl with the baby can do it, so can you" and you’re like ‘but she’s married, she’s 25 etc". You know, my mother isn’t going to take him (young mother’s child) as soon as she comes back from a full day’s work so that I can go study (Young mother, aged 19 years).
Programmes identified by TPSI project workers as responding well to these issues included:
• In Dublin, the Youth Horizons project and An Cosan in Tallaght;
• In Galway, a computer course run by FAS; and
• In Limerick, Youthreach and Limerick Youth Service.
(iv) Age criteria for entry to training or ‘second chance’ education programmes Current qualifying age limits on training schemes act as a barrier for some young parents. Many of the existing training schemes in Ireland require participants to be aged of 21 years or over, effectively excluding young lone parents. See Section 5.2. for further discussion of these issues.
(v) Lack of external counselling and support programmes TPSI project workers and other key workers with young people identify major gaps in the provision of external counselling and support programmes for pregnant schoolgirls and teenage parents in education (Report of the Limerick Teen Parenting Project, 2000). However, the support offered by
home school liaison teachers were widely praised by young parents and project workers:
Its’ good to have the home school teacher here if there’s anything bothering you, you can come down and talk to her and she won’t judge you. Even though she knows you, she wont judge you and anything you say to her is confidential and you know that like. She will give you very good advice as well. She gave me leaflets and told me how to get in contact with this person or that person. The project worker (TPSI) and her sorted out the money for my mother for her taking care of the baby (Young mother, aged 16 years).
(vi) Family support It was widely agreed that strong parental support is fundamental to students continuing in education. Young mothers’ choices in education, training or employment can be restricted by the extent and level of family support, particularly where young mothers are dependent upon family support (especially childcare) to facilitate these choices.
All you hear is how "Oh we support people going back to school" but yet they really don’t.
They don’t offer anything. I was just lucky I had my mother, cos if I was living at home in a flat by myself there’s no way I could have done it (gone back to school). Not a hope (Young mother, aged 18 years).
currently involved in education and training. Additionally, young parents not currently involved in either training, education or employment are encouraged and supported by project workers to consider re-entering or resuming educational or training activities.
A key issue emerging from the Initiative is the importance of project staff being prepared to solve practical problems that keep teenage parents from fully participating in activities that promote selfsufficiency, that is, in education, training and employment.
6.3.1. Joint initiatives in education with other agencies A key element of the work of the pilot projects is joint agency working with existing educational and training agencies including mainstream second level schools. Joint working initiatives may represent a significant step in the move towards providing ‘joined up service provision’ (McCashin, 1997). Key agencies with whom TPSI projects collaborated included:
• Mainstream second level schools (including secondary level, VEC and community schools) and Post Leaving Certificate Colleges;
• Home-School Liaison Officers;
• Institutes of Technology and Universities;
• FAS training centres; and
• Specialist projects working with young parents including: the Young Mothers in Education project in Galway City, An Cosaín and Youth Horizons in Tallaght, Co. Dublin and Limerick Youth Service and V.E.C., in Limerick city and county.
The benefits of developing joint working with other agencies are considerable as it:
• Enables TPSI projects to gain a better understanding of the needs within the local area both amongst young parents and service providers;
• Provides agencies with an opportunity to work (with others) towards meeting needs and filling gaps in service provision;