Maternity group homes are a potential solution to this housing issue, and possibly to other challenges facing teen parents. Maternity group homes can offer an intensive package of services to meet the short- and longer-term needs of pregnant and parenting teens. In the short term, these homes provide a secure living environment with adult supervision and material and emotional support for teen parent families. Maternity group homes can also promote more positive long-term outcomes for teen parents and their children, by providing more extensive services to better prepare residents for independence. Maternity group homes can also provide necessary logistical supports such as transportation and child care to enable teen parents to pursue avenues to better their lives and their families’ futures.
History. Maternity group homes have a long history. Some of the maternity group homes in operation today — such as Inwood House in New York, St. Ann’s in Maryland, and the Florence Crittenton agencies — trace their origins to the 1800s (Reich 1996; Reich and Kelly 2000; and Child Welfare League of America 2004). A number of “rescue homes” were opened in the United States in the late 19th century to aid unwed mothers who, at the time, faced considerable social stigma in addition to economic hardship. These homes provided a safe place for young “fallen women” to live during and after pregnancy, as well as services intended to “rehabilitate” them and teach them to care for their children. Some traditional maternity homes provided services only during pregnancy, after which the usual outcome was for the mothers to give their babies up for adoption.
The need for this type of home was reduced over time, however, due to gradual social changes that made single parenthood more socially acceptable.1 Particularly during the 1960s and 70s, increased access to contraception made unintended pregnancies more preventable, and the reduced stigma of single parenthood led to a growing desire of unwed mothers to keep their babies. These changes led to the closing of some traditional maternity homes and the re-focusing of other programs. Some homes closed entirely, stopped providing residential services, or diversified to serving a broader population of young women in need (Child Welfare League of America 2004). Others continued their mission as maternity group homes, but with alterations to meet the changing needs. Some relocated from large facilities to smaller, community-based homes. Some homes that had only served pregnant residents extended their programs to provide assistance to the growing number of mothers who decided to keep their babies. In addition, some programs shifted from serving unmarried mothers in general to focusing on a population with the greatest need — teenagers.
Teen mothers in particular still face considerable challenges in caring for themselves and their children, as discussed above. In addition, recent welfare reform rules that require minor parents to live in approved housing as a condition of TANF receipt have contributed to a resurgence in maternity group homes specifically targeted to serve pregnant and parenting teenagers who, for one reason or another, cannot live in their parents’ homes.2 For example, welfare reform prompted the creation of a few networks of maternity group homes, such as the statewide Teen Living Program established in Massachusetts in 1995.
Prior Research. While maternity group homes have the potential to address some important consequences of teen pregnancy, there are a number of gaps in the breadth and depth of knowledge collected about their operations. There have been a number of descriptive studies of maternity group homes in recent years, which have examined the characteristics of their programs and, sometimes, of their residents.3 However, while the existing studies provide helpful descriptive information on maternity group homes and their residents, they suffer from limitations that reduce the usefulness of their findings. In particular, most studies either provide a very brief look at a number of different homes, or a more intensive examination of a single maternity group home or network. In addition, few studies explored the implementation of maternity group homes, resulting in limited information on the challenges faced and lessons learned as staff operate maternity group home programs.