Resources to Help Young Parents Thrive

Updated on August 26, 2020 and originally posted August 10, 2020 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young parents with their child

Young par­ents face myr­i­ad dai­ly chal­lenges, many of them stem­ming from main­tain­ing employ­ment that pays fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing wages while bal­anc­ing par­ent­ing and edu­ca­tion­al goals. The strain these par­ents face has only been exac­er­bat­ed by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, which has brought eco­nom­ic tur­moil and uncer­tain­ty to many young people.

Below are resources, fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, that out­line key find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions for how the pri­vate, phil­an­thropic and gov­ern­ment sec­tors can help young par­ents suc­cess­ful­ly enter employ­ment and edu­ca­tion­al path­ways that will help them — and their fam­i­lies — thrive.

Though these resources were pro­duced before the COVID-19 out­break, they still con­tain rec­om­men­da­tions and find­ings that are rel­e­vant to prac­ti­tion­ers and oth­er stake­hold­ers serv­ing young peo­ple with chil­dren,” says Rosa Maria Cas­tañe­da, a senior asso­ciate with the Casey Foun­da­tion who man­ages invest­ments in two-gen­er­a­tion approach­es. We hope that lead­ers in var­i­ous fields review these find­ings and incor­po­rate them into their visions, work and strate­gies meant to help this population.

KIDS COUNT Pol­i­cy Report: Open­ing Doors for Young Parents

This 2018 Casey Foun­da­tion report describes the edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic chal­lenges faced by young-adult par­ents in the U.S. — find­ing that rough­ly 70% of chil­dren with young par­ents live in fam­i­lies with incomes low­er than 200% of the fed­er­al pover­ty line. Also: more than half of young par­ents (55%) are peo­ple of col­or, who often face chal­lenges exac­er­bat­ed by dis­crim­i­na­tion and sys­temic inequities, the pub­li­ca­tion says.

The report calls for:

  • bet­ter coor­di­na­tion among fed­er­al, state and local agen­cies on fund­ing work­force pro­grams for young par­ents to help them build their employ­ment skills for high-demand industries;
  • expand­ed access to pub­lic ben­e­fits pro­grams for young-adult par­ents; and
  • addi­tion­al ser­vices to reduce stress, pro­mote child devel­op­ment and encour­age healthy par­ent­ing — includ­ing more sup­port for fam­i­ly-plan­ning, health and childcare.

Engag­ing Young Par­ents and Fathers in Par­ent­ing Programs

This 2019 study by the Child and Fam­i­ly Research Part­ner­ship exam­ines data from more than 2,000 fam­i­lies involved in home-vis­it­ing pro­grams — which involve coun­selors vis­it­ing par­ents to help them build their par­ent­ing skills and con­nec­tions with sup­port ser­vices. The report com­pares char­ac­ter­is­tics, par­tic­i­pa­tion rates and out­comes for younger and old­er par­ents, explor­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, the role fathers play in the process.

Key find­ings include:

  • younger par­ents may face more bar­ri­ers to par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­tin­u­a­tion in home-vis­it­ing pro­grams than old­er par­ents — but they are also more like­ly to quick­ly fol­low up on their children’s devel­op­men­tal and health-screen­ings; and
  • fam­i­lies that include fathers in the pro­gram tend to face few­er risk fac­tors and may engage more deeply.

Under­stand­ing the Needs of Young Par­ents and the Best Approach­es for Serv­ing Them

Also pro­duced by the Child and Fam­i­ly Research Part­ner­ship, this 2019 paper presents find­ings from nine focus groups in Texas with young-adult par­ents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of orga­ni­za­tions that serve them. The report finds that many young fathers and moth­ers need sup­port and men­tor­ship on par­ent­ing, includ­ing how to co-par­ent and man­age conflicts.

Key rec­om­men­da­tions for ser­vice providers include:

  • struc­ture hours and pro­grams around the needs of par­ents who are bal­anc­ing work, edu­ca­tion and fam­i­ly; and
  • help young par­ents find men­tor­ship, advice and coach­ing on par­ent­ing — as many report being iso­lat­ed and lack­ing adult role models.

Strate­gies to Meet the Needs of Young-Par­ent Fam­i­lies: High­lights from Inter­views with 14 Programs

This 2018 Urban Insti­tute paper high­lights promis­ing fea­tures and prac­tices from pro­grams pro­vid­ing work­force and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties for young par­ents across the nation and calls for addi­tion­al fund­ing for these ser­vices. For instance, one group spot­light­ed is Climb Wyoming, an employ­ment-train­ing non­prof­it that con­ducts research to ensure it pro­vides young par­ents with train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties based on employ­er demand.

Bridg­ing Sys­tems for Fam­i­ly Eco­nom­ic Mobil­i­ty: Post­sec­ondary and Ear­ly Edu­ca­tion Partnership

Ear­ly child­hood and high­er edu­ca­tion sys­tems can coor­di­nate their work to increase eco­nom­ic mobil­i­ty for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies, accord­ing to this 2019 report by the Insti­tute for Women’s Pol­i­cy Research. The report’s rec­om­men­da­tions include:

  • require edu­ca­tion sys­tems and pub­lic ben­e­fits agen­cies at the local, state and nation­al lev­els to coor­di­nate on col­lect­ing data on stu­dent par­ents and pro­grams that sup­port them;
  • increase fund­ing and access to child­care for stu­dent par­ents; and
  • use fed­er­al, state and non­prof­it pro­grams to con­nect low-income stu­dent par­ents with afford­able, qual­i­ty childcare.

Mak­ing Free Col­lege” Pro­grams Work for Col­lege Stu­dents with Children

This 2019 pub­li­ca­tion from the Insti­tute for Women’s Pol­i­cy Research con­sid­ers how col­lege promise pro­grams — which offer schol­ar­ships that cov­er much or all of stu­dents’ tuition and fees — can be tai­lored to bet­ter help stu­dents with chil­dren. The authors suggest:

  • remov­ing require­ments that lim­it par­tic­i­pa­tion in col­lege promise pro­grams, such as lim­it­ing access to recent high school graduates;
  • allow­ing stu­dent par­ents to remain on ben­e­fits pro­grams longer, because they typ­i­cal­ly take longer to com­plete their degrees; and
  • offer­ing sup­port­ive ser­vices, such as aca­d­e­m­ic coach­ing and help find­ing and pay­ing for childcare.

Young Par­ents Speak Out: Bar­ri­ers, Bias and Bro­ken Systems

This 2020 paper by Nation­al Crit­ten­ton and Katch­er Con­sult­ing is built on inter­views, lis­ten­ing ses­sions and sur­veys with young-adult par­ents and staff at orga­ni­za­tions that serve them. The paper pro­pos­es an approach to young-par­ent advo­ca­cy that includes building:

  • an advo­cates’ cir­cle for young par­ents where they can share expe­ri­ences, inform and shape pol­i­cy ideas and build orga­niz­ing skills; and
  • a broad­er net­work of young-par­ent advo­cates work­ing with key orga­ni­za­tions and allies.

Bal­anc­ing Work with School and Train­ing While Rais­ing Young Children

Young par­ents who work and pur­sue edu­ca­tion or train­ing need sup­port for their edu­ca­tion­al costs and help find­ing and afford­ing child­care, says this 2019 pub­li­ca­tion from the Urban Institute.

Key find­ings include:

  • young par­ents jug­gling both work and school typ­i­cal­ly spend 14% of their house­hold income on child­care, twice what the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment recommends;
  • these par­ents also spend 47 hours a week, on aver­age, in work and school com­bined — about 10% more than the com­mit­ments of young par­ents who only work; and
  • many young par­ents rely on fam­i­ly mem­bers to care for their chil­dren in the evenings and on week­ends, as find­ing and afford­ing child­care dur­ing non­tra­di­tion­al hours is difficult.

Young Par­ents Mak­ing Their Way: Com­bin­ing Edu­ca­tion and Work While Parenting

For this report, Urban Insti­tute researchers exam­ined data on young par­ents from the Nation­al Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Sur­vey of Youth to find trends in employ­ment, edu­ca­tion, work­force train­ing and oth­er areas.

The pub­li­ca­tion, which was released in 2019, finds:

  • every 10 months that young par­ents spend com­bin­ing work and edu­ca­tion dur­ing their 20s is asso­ci­at­ed with a $4,510 increase in fam­i­ly income by age 30 (though oth­er fac­tors are rel­e­vant, too);
  • African Amer­i­can and Lati­no young par­ents see the most dra­mat­ic changes, with every 10 months of com­bin­ing work and edu­ca­tion asso­ci­at­ed with more than $4,000 increas­es in indi­vid­ual income (com­pared to only $2,750 for white young par­ents); and
  • young par­ents who are dis­con­nect­ed” — nei­ther work­ing nor in school or train­ing — expe­ri­ence a decrease in income by age 30.

Grow­ing Togeth­er: Young Par­ents Share Suc­cess­es, Strug­gles and Rec­om­men­da­tions for Change

This pub­li­ca­tion, based on inter­views with more than 100 young par­ents in 2018 and 2019, finds that many young peo­ple with chil­dren, par­tic­u­lar­ly moth­ers of col­or, report:

  • feel­ing alone and lack­ing support;
  • strug­gling to find and keep afford­able hous­ing, qual­i­ty health care and child­care; and
  • fac­ing chal­lenges bal­anc­ing par­ent­ing, edu­ca­tion­al goals and jobs that pay fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing wages while main­tain­ing access to pub­lic benefits.

Among oth­er things, young par­ents inter­viewed for the report, pro­duced by the non­prof­it, Unit­ed Par­ent Lead­ers Action Net­work, rec­om­mend:

  • increas­ing and expand­ing afford­able hous­ing and child­care programs;
  • devel­op­ing more sup­port groups and resource cen­ters for young par­ents; and
  • advo­cat­ing for flex­i­ble work poli­cies that help them man­age par­ent­ing responsibilities.

Look­ing at Life Dif­fer­ent: Equi­table Men­tal Health Sup­ports for Young Adults

The Cen­ter for Law and Social Pol­i­cy host­ed focus groups in 2017 and 2018 made up of most­ly rur­al, urban and Native Amer­i­can young moth­ers in six states — Alaba­ma, Cal­i­for­nia, Col­orado, Mary­land, North Car­oli­na and Texas — to bet­ter under­stand their men­tal health needs. In the dis­cus­sions, young moth­ers report­ed feeling:

  • wor­ried about a lack of access to qual­i­ty employ­ment, which caused instability;
  • stressed if they lived in low-income neigh­bor­hoods — cit­ing vio­lence in their com­mu­ni­ties as key obsta­cles to their men­tal health; and
  • that the day-to-day chal­lenges of car­ing for their chil­dren required them to relin­quish their per­son­al, edu­ca­tion­al and career goals.

The brief offers rec­om­men­da­tions that it argues would improve young par­ents’ men­tal health, including:

  • boost­ing access to pub­lic ben­e­fits, such as child-care subsidies;
  • increas­ing invest­ment in pro­grams that con­nect young par­ents with edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment path­ways; and
  • employ­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based vio­lence pre­ven­tion strate­gies to make com­mu­ni­ties safer.

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