The Australian Young Pregnant & Parenting Network wants governments and the wider community to better understand and respond to the experiences of pregnant and parenting young people and their children, particularly those that are disadvantaged and at high risk of social exclusion. Disadvantage that comes from teenage pregnancy and parenting is largely determined by the wide diversity of backgrounds and circumstances of young people. Family, the specific communities and cultures in which they live, disability, income, levels of education, drug and alcohol use, rural and remoteness and access (or lack of it) to appropriate services overwhelmingly determine their life chances.
We argue that evidence-based policies, programs and resources must be put in place to improve the life chances of all young people in this group. The premises that drive our advocacy are:
- Supporting pregnant and parenting young people is in everyone’s interests
- Young parents can be great parents
- Knowledge is power and respect empowers
- Love, understanding and care is everyone’s right
- Education is the key to independence
- Rights are balanced by responsibilities.
The evidence of what helps is clear.
In reducing teenage pregnancy:
- Quality sex and relationships education, accurate information, skills in decision-making, assertiveness, negotiation and life skills
- Remaining connected with education, tutoring and support, career counselling, employment and community involvement
- Confidential contraception and abortion services, unbiased counselling and follow up care
- Targeted programs for hard-to-reach young people
In supporting healthy pregnancies:
- Multidisciplinary ante-natal clinics and physical and psychological support
- Support from family, friends and peers
- Informed advice and encouragement
In supporting young parents and their children:
- Sustained and non-judgemental post natal support; centre based and home visits
- One stop shop advice about housing, health, income support, education, training and employment
- Schools with flexible curricula, timetabling and help with childcare
This will only be possible if state and federal governments agree to a national framework of action with stable, high quality services that are responsive to the needs of pregnancy and parenting young people.
As the material in this website shows, not all young people are receiving reliable, unbiased advice about their choices, either in having sex or in what to do if they are pregnant. Similarly, teenage parents will find that the vast majority of schools will not or cannot cater for their needs, despite most state government legislation on discrimination saying they must.
Services for young parents – playgroups, parenting advice and the like – are geographically patchy, mostly reliant on grants, donations and the willingness of community based organisations to run them. Programs are generally time and funding-limited, competitively tendered or just dropped, regardless of merit, meaning wasteful churn and lost expertise.
Sex & relationships education is done well in some schools in some states but mostly teachers are not trained in this area and effectiveness is inadequate.
It seems to us that from about 2004 to 2010 there was a good deal of activity in this space. Research and evaluation programs found good evidence of both the need and effectiveness of services and some standout programs were being run.
South Australia – a success story
In May 2015 the SA Health Department released its report – Pregnancy Outcome in South Australia 2012 – showing an astounding 30 percent decline in teenage pregnancy rates over the preceding decade and live births down to 15.4/1000 women. [In 2014 the Australia-wide birth rate for teenagers was 13/1000 women, down from 17.4 in 2002.]
Teen abortion rates have almost halved and teenagers now account for just 3.9 per cent of all women who gave birth. South Australia is the only state to have comprehensive sex education in schools, supported by SHINE SA – SA’s family planning organisation. This program and the provision of long-acting contraception are understood to be the main factors in this decline. Even so, 796 SA teenagers gave birth (119 of these were Aboriginal) and 704 had pregnancy terminations in 2012. SA is the only state that collects and publishes comprehensive data on abortion rates.
Data show a significant decline in the number of teenage births in Australia over the last decade but we are still well behind many countries. According to the World Bank, Switzerland, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Singapore, Slovenia and Macao have teenage birth rates of 4/1000 or less.
The picture [in 2013] shows a big difference between Indigenous and non-indigenous young people. According to Australian Indigenous Health Infonet:
Indigenous women had more babies and had them at younger ages than non-Indigenous women; teenagers had one-fifth (18%) of the babies born to Indigenous women, compared with only 3.4% of those born to all mothers . … The fertility rate of teenage Indigenous women (63 babies per 1,000 women) was over four times that of all teenage women (15 babies per 1,000).
In 2016, interest in pregnant and parenting young people seems to have at least plateaued. For there to be more positive futures for the many young people who are not well equipped to make life-determining reproductive health decisions and the 9,204 teenagers who gave birth in 2014 (and a no doubt similar number in 2015), advocacy is still needed.
Other advocacy groups
Youth Network of Tasmania – Advocating for targeted programs for young parents aiming to support them to reconnect or stay connected in education and training during pregnancy and following birth and support programs and parenting skills classes to be made available and targeted to the specific needs of young parents.