In My Neighborhood


Read this.

Take a deep breath.

Consider this:

Perhaps the problem in communities where there the teen birth rate is high is not that there are significant resources dedicated to helping people who already have children. We are a society that reveres motherhood as the hardest and most rewarding job of all. We should be doing what we can to help parents succeed. Part of that is helping people who don’t want to become parents until later access the information and services they need to achieve that goal, in addition to providing the necessary supports for parents, regardless of age.

Perhaps what the author sees as lack of attention to helping young people pursue higher education isn’t that those resources are necessarily diverted to helping young families; it’s that there is an overall lack of opportunity in certain communities as a result of decades of policies that make upward mobility and educational attainment out of reach for lots of reasons. Perhaps this “bias in offerings” is a reasonable response to communities where the needs are great and money is scarce. Perhaps we need to have a conversation that helps re-center prevention—of pregnancy, of dropping out of high school, of unemployment—in addition to helping triage in the midst of what to public officials can feel like crises.

Perhaps there is lots of misinformation about public assistance in general—that women on “welfare” get more money for having more babies (no), that teens become pregnant so they can get cheap housing (nope), or that some of us live in a world where relying on this help to make ends meet comes without scrutiny and stigma (nuh uh). Perhaps this essay fans the flames of this debate. Perhaps it is simply one young woman’s account of what she sees around her.

In my neighborhood, we can work to give communities the tools they need to help individuals achieve their goals on all fronts, whether they are related to childbearing, or education, or affordable housing, or reducing poverty. I think all of these concerns are related. And I think we can do it without pointing fingers, and without demonizing those among us who might need the most help.

 

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I know that this is an old post but I came specifically looking for information about support programs for teen mothers in pursuit of higher education. I read both the article and the blog response more than once and I felt compelled to respond. The blog appears to take issue with the author’s assertion that resources in poor communities are only directed to young families. I felt like the blog attempted to educate the author on the ills that plague her actual community and to inform her that her vantage point is misguided. However, I believe that the blog is blind to the author’s very valid points. Why shouldn’t she be rewarded for her diligence? She is a product of the cycle of poverty perpetuated by unplanned pregnancy and a lack of education that affects multiple generations. She was able to avoid pregnancy with the goal of pursuing higher education but there is a difference between encouraging college applications and providing resources to help increase successful completion of college. College necessitates resources that low income students and their families just do not have. If high school graduation is something that is difficult to obtain in your environment then college graduation is like catching a unicorn. I do not believe that her intention was to demonize the systems in place to help young families. She was bringing attention to the fact that there are no resources for her beyond routine financial aid. She followed all the rules only to suffer from lack of resources in a space that is already plagued by not having enough to go around in the first place. She was not retelling the welfare queen myth but instead was pointing out the availability of survival resources which are accessible by her friends with kids but which are not accessible to her. The long term rewards from investing resources in young families are high if they help move them towards economic stability. I would argue that one person in a low income family who is able to move up the economic earning ladder through higher education has the ability to reach back to help the struggling but especially single, child-free persons.. These students should have full access to resources to make education attainment easier because it is hard to climb a ladder carrying the additional weight of being poor on your back.

I was the child of a single mom who did not graduate high school. We lived in public housing, received TANF, food stamps, and I had medicaid my first year of college. For the last 3 years I did not have any health insurance and I prayed that I would not fall ill. In high school I worked to pay for SAT fees, AP exams and college applications which did not always come with fee waivers. I had a kind church family who supported me throughout the years but my family had no concept of college and did not know what support I needed and did not have any money to send. I did not know multiple people in my community who had applied to college or who had filled out a FAFSA, I was on my own. I had to take time off between college and medical school because as a college student I did not have money to take the MCAT, to apply for medical school or to pay for interviews. Medical school was a foreign world and I often felt out of place with my classmates who had parents on the faculty. A decade and a half after graduating high school I am finally earning a salary that puts me in a position to help my family. I have to admit that having a child along this journey would have made it harder to reach my goals and would have made for less income left to be able to help. Her story resonates with me because I know what it is like to be in her shoes.

In poor neighborhoods the worse thing that could happen to you does NOT have anything to do with becoming a teen parent because bringing new life into the world is beautiful. A new baby is a chance to get it right and is a call to provide a better life, even serving as a surrogate for love not received or filling a void. In these neighborhoods the worse things that can happen involves the loss of life or liberty- getting killed by senseless violence, having a substance abuse problem, going to prison or becoming the victim of police brutality. Encouraging higher education in communities like the author’s is often viewed as selling an unattainable dream as they have rarely seen it successfully done by anyone where they live. But, they have seen people get decent paying non-skilled jobs that often come with benefits to allow them to take care of their kids. Their neighborhoods are full of deferred dreams. It’s an empty gesture when we encourage the pursuit of education but do not offer support. Students like the author are the upwardly mobile and should not only be encouraged to pursue higher education but should be supported financially because, like young families, they too do not have a network in place to succeed on their own.