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Research Summaries

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Room to Grow: Improving Services for Pregnant and Parenting Teenagers in School Settings

(November 1999)

Original article by: Brindis, C. and Philliber, S.

Teenage pregnancy is the greatest single cause of dropping out of school for young women, and school attendance rates for pregnant and parenting teens are typically lower than those for the general adolescent population. These facts, coupled with many other outcomes (e.g., economic, pregnancy-related, health, and child outcomes), underscore the need for effective interventions for this population.

Brindis and Philliber review characteristics of 16 interventions for pregnant and parenting teens in an effort to elucidate which program services are likely to yield positive outcomes. The 16 programs reviewed represent the most well-evaluated studies at the time this article was published.

The programs varied extensively in terms of number and types of services provided. Some programs provided as few as three services, whereas as others included up to nine different components. The authors found that the most common elements included: parenting education (offered by 10 of 16 programs), case management (included in 9 of 16 programs), and prenatal care (provided in 8 of 16 programs). The most intensive programs included a broader array of services, such as academic enhancements, job training, child care, transportation, and incentives, among others.

Many of the programs shared similar goals. Some of the more common outcomes included reducing school dropout rates, increasing employment, decreasing welfare dependency, increasing contraceptive use, decreasing repeat pregnancy, and increasing parenting skills. How successful were the programs in achieving these outcomes?

  • Six studies showed positive gains in school continuation;
  • Six studies showed positive gains in employment;
  • Four studies showed modest decreases in welfare dependency;
  • Only one study showed an increase in contraceptive use;
  • Six studies reported some impact on decreasing repeat pregnancy;
  • Four studies showed modest improvements in parenting skills.

The authors note that, in general, programs that were more comprehensive tended to have better outcomes, but more services did not always equal more outcomes. For example, programs with six to nine different services attained from three to six major outcomes, but the program with nine components achieved three major outcomes, whereas the program with six elements yielded six positive outcomes.

As a result of examining these 16 studies, the authors provide a conceptual model for future program planning and evaluation. The model guides program planners to consider four key elements: the clients, the services intended, the services received, and the outcomes. For each element, the model includes numerous factors to consider (e.g., for services intended, it is important to consider the type of services, service incentives, how services are coordinated, etc.)

To boost the potential effectiveness of interventions for pregnant and parenting teens, the authors also suggest the importance of considering factors that have not been commonly addressed, such as the role of sexual abuse, the influence of childbearing on younger sisters, and the role of older males in fathering children to teens.

Similarly, the authors emphasize that, based on current research, these programs should involve fathers in nurturing their children; they also should provide services for the young mother's parents, siblings, and other family members.

There continues to be a need for successful programs for pregnant and parenting adolescents. The authors emphasize the importance of using a systematic approach to designing and evaluating such programs, and the importance of examining lessons learned from the past to ensure greater success in the future.

Brindis, C. & Philliber, S. (1998). Room to grow: Improving services for pregnant and parenting teenagers in school settings. Education and Urban Society, 30(2), 242-260.