The Implementation of Maternity Group Home Programs: Serving Pregnant and Parenting Teens in a Residential Setting. What Kinds of Residents Do These Programs Typically Serve?

04/22/2005

Maternity group home programs serve a very disadvantaged population with many special needs.  Many were abused as children.  Program staff consistently reported that histories of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse were common among residents of their homes.  Residents have frequently had their first sexual experience at a very early age, often as a result of sexual abuse.  In addition, residents often come from chaotic family backgrounds that put them at high risk for abuse and other adverse outcomes.  Many were raised in unstable family situations, often involving frequent moves and a lack of structure.

VICKY: A LONG HISTORY WITH THE CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM
“Vicky” is 19 years old and has a nine-month-old daughter. Vicky was taken into state custody as a baby and grew up in the foster care system. She has lived with so many foster families and in so many group homes that she has lost count. When her daughter was first born, she and Vicky were living with a foster family. However, the child welfare authorities became concerned about the safety of Vicky's baby and separated them. They lived apart for about three months and have recently been reunited at the maternity home where Vicky and her daughter now live. Vicky is grateful to have a place to live together with her baby. Although things are going better now, she says it was rough at first, because her daughter had forgotten her. Vicky dropped out of school when she became pregnant and has not gone back. Now she is working part time at a fast food restaurant and spending time with her daughter. Vicky says life in the home can be stressful. It is hard to live with so many other people, and the residents sometimes fight over chores or how the children are interacting. Vicky plans to remain in the home for at least a few more months and hopes to qualify for subsidized housing where she and her daughter can afford to live on their own.

In other cases, residents have spent many years in the foster care system with little or no contact with their families.  Most residents have little support from family members.  Program staff frequently indicated that their residents had extremely poor models of parenting as young children.  They, therefore, now find it extremely challenging to be good parents themselves.

Consistent with their disadvantaged backgrounds, many residents have histories of psychological and behavior problems.  Although programs strive to screen out residents with the most serious problems, depression, substance abuse, and involvement with the juvenile justice system are fairly common.  Program staff indicated that most of their residents have been exposed to abuse and trauma as young children which has, in many cases, led to serious mental health problems.  Residents are often on psychiatric medication and the need for mental health services among this population is high.  For some residents, substance abuse is also a concern.  Some homes use ongoing random drug tests as a strategy for preventing drug abuse among residents.  In some cases, residents have histories of criminal activity and have been involved with the juvenile justice system.  In addition, residents have frequently dropped out of school prior to entering the home.  Many have spent a year or more out of school before enrolling in the program.

The information on resident characteristics provided by program staff underscores the complex challenges facing many maternity group home residents as they struggle to become successful parents and prepare to live independently.  Many face serious obstacles, including mental health and substance abuse issues, poor school performance, and limited or no familial support. As described in the next chapter, maternity group home programs provide an intensive array of support services designed to help these young mothers meet these challenges and make a successful transition to parenthood and independent living.

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