Young mothers schooled in teen parent units are more likely to succeed, the first study into the country’s education initiative shows.
Teen mums enrolled in the units are 20 per cent more likely to gain NCEA than mums who aren’t enrolled.
They are also less likely to drop out than students in more rural or remote areas.
Researchers from Auckland University of Technology completed the research – the first study into the educational success of the units since they began – for the Ministry of Social Development.
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They assessed the achievements of 6711 teen mums who were born between 1991 and 1994.
Overall, they found teen parent units increased the school enrolment rates of teen mothers by 15 per cent.
“Additionally, these services can substantially raise the achievement levels of teen mothers who do enrol,” the researchers said.
There are now 23 units nationwide, though many young parents still do not have access to one.
Wellington mother and librarian Petra Haliciopoulos-Fisher fell pregnant at 15.
She doubted she would have gone to university had it not been for the teen parenting unit He Huarahi Tamariki.
“Oh gosh no, not at all. Imagine dealing with a six-month-old up teething half the night and then going to school the next day with no support. It’s unachievable.”
It was crucial for units to be accessible for all teen parents, she said.
“They should be available for anyone who needs them.”
With a creche on site, breastfeeding, budgeting, and teaching support, she was able to gain university entrance and go on to study a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University, Haliciopoulos-Fisher said.
“I had lost a lot of confidence at school, and the teachers [at Huarahi] built my confidence up and I realised ‘Hey, I am clever and I can do this’.
“It felt like they were your advocates in a world where it wasn’t okay to be teen parents. It was a safe space.”
Haliciopoulos-Fisher is now 25 and her son Kayden is 9. She is now married to his father, Marcel Fisher, and they also have a daughter, 15-month-old Darcy.
Becoming a mother again has reinforced to Haliciopoulos-Fisher how hard it is to be a teen mum.
“You have all the normal difficulties like loneliness and lack of sleep and your whole life shifting, but there’s also so much judgement and there’s an assumption that you’re a bad mum.”
EDUCATING TEEN PARENTS
New Zealand’s teenage birth rate is among the highest in the developed world, with 19 births per 1000 young women.
This has dropped, from 33 in 2008, but remains high, especially for Maori and Pacific women and those in more socially deprived areas.
Teens aged 15-19 gave birth to 2841 babies in 2015.
There are spaces for about 500 teen parents in the units nationwide. They are designed for teenagers who are pregnant or already parents, and provide wraparound services for them to learn with their child. They are usually governed by mainstream schools.
In 1994, Wellington’s Porirua College was the first secondary school to open a special unit for teenage parents.
The Ministry of Social Development study builds on a 2011 Families Commission report, which highlighted how difficult it was for teenage parents to stay in mainstream education.
In 2014, the Ministry began a three-year pilot programme within mainstream schools, to support those parents who could not attend units. It is currently being evaluated.