Young Parents Face Daily Challenges, Says New Report

Posted March 26, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young parents, ages 18-24, face daily challenges that threaten their children's development

Photo credit: Chip Dizard Studios for the Casey Foundation

Young par­ents face a host of chal­lenges in their dai­ly lives, from secur­ing ade­quate child care to advanc­ing their edu­ca­tion or land­ing jobs that can sus­tain their fam­i­lies, accord­ing to a recent Casey-fund­ed study by the Urban Institute.

With­out bet­ter social sup­ports and poli­cies, such chal­lenges not only adverse­ly affect the lives of young par­ents today, they also damp­en their children’s abil­i­ty to achieve greater edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic gains in the future.

As this report shows, young adult par­ents are at a point of great stress and great oppor­tu­ni­ty,” says Rosa Maria Cas­tañe­da, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion who man­ages two-gen­er­a­tion investments.

Cas­tañe­da recent­ly host­ed a meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., of young par­ents, researchers, advo­cates and providers to dis­cuss the issues they face and rec­om­men­da­tions for change. In addi­tion to many oth­er chal­lenges, these young peo­ple often face racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and stig­mas, which can exact a psy­cho­log­i­cal toll and fur­ther iso­late them,” she says. Yet, time and again, young par­ents tell us that hav­ing a child is a trans­for­ma­tive event in their lives, moti­vat­ing them to achieve not only that child’s dreams, but their own.”

The study, Under­stand­ing Young-Par­ent Fam­i­lies, focus­es on par­ents between the ages of 18 and 24. It uses the lat­est data from the Sur­vey of Income and Pro­gram Par­tic­i­pa­tion (SIPP) to present a more com­plete pic­ture of these 4.5 mil­lion young adults, their com­plex lives and the sup­ports that are avail­able to them and their children.

Under­stand­ing the key char­ac­ter­is­tics of this pop­u­la­tion can help guide pub­lic poli­cies and prac­tices to more effec­tive­ly help young par­ents com­plete their edu­ca­tion, obtain bet­ter jobs and build longer-term sta­bil­i­ty for them­selves and their families.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Most young par­ents are not engaged in edu­ca­tion activities. 
    The major­i­ty of young par­ents — 65% — have no edu­ca­tion beyond high school and 22% have less than a high school degree. These par­ents will like­ly face mount­ing chal­lenges try­ing to sup­port a fam­i­ly in a labor mar­ket that increas­ing­ly requires post­sec­ondary cre­den­tials. To assist young par­ents, poli­cies must sup­port enhanced edu­ca­tion and train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. Strate­gies on this front include flex­i­ble sched­ules, accel­er­at­ed cours­es, robust coun­sel­ing, acces­si­ble finan­cial sup­ports and career devel­op­ment options that are tai­lored to a parent’s goals.
  • Most young par­ents live in low-income households. 
    More than 71% of young-par­ent house­holds had incomes of less than 200% of the fed­er­al pover­ty lev­el. A large per­cent­age of young par­ents expe­ri­ence job­less spells, con­tribut­ing to their low­er income lev­els. Young par­ents could ben­e­fit from stronger con­nec­tions to job and career train­ing that is tai­lored to their goals and skills.
  • Many young par­ents live in house­holds with oth­er fam­i­ly members. 
    A large per­cent­age of young par­ents live with fam­i­ly mem­bers, such as their part­ner, their own par­ents, grand­par­ents or a spouse’s par­ents. Giv­en that fam­i­lies can be an impor­tant source of finan­cial and emo­tion­al sup­port — as well as a source of child care — strate­gies for assist­ing young fam­i­lies should take a fam­i­ly-cen­tered approach.
  • Young par­ents are still devel­op­ing emotionally. 
    Pro­grams assist­ing young fam­i­lies should con­sid­er men­tor­ing sup­port to help guide young par­ents in nav­i­gat­ing the com­plex­i­ties of par­ent­ing, edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions and the labor market.
  • Many young par­ents rely on food and health­care insur­ance assistance. 
    More than 2 mil­lion young par­ents used sup­ple­men­tal food pro­grams to help feed their fam­i­lies. These par­ents also relied on pub­lic health assis­tance for them­selves and their chil­dren. Such facts under­score the impor­tant role that pro­grams like the Children’s Health Insur­ance Pro­gram and Med­ic­aid now play in help­ing young fam­i­lies achieve greater finan­cial stability.
  • Most young par­ents have young chil­dren, yet few rely on pub­lic childcare. 
    Too many com­mu­ni­ties lack qual­i­ty child­care options for infants and tod­dlers. Work­force pro­grams can help address this sig­nif­i­cant need by work­ing with part­ners to devel­op child­care plans, facil­i­tat­ing access to child­care sub­si­dies, help par­ents iden­ti­fy appro­pri­ate care or even offer child­care directly.

At the meet­ing with young par­ents in Wash­ing­ton D.C., Child Trends researcher Jes­si­ca Dym Bartlett pre­sent­ed find­ings iden­ti­fy­ing approach­es — includ­ing home vis­it­ing pro­grams and Ear­ly Head Start — that can improve out­comes for the chil­dren of young parents.

The young par­ents in atten­dance also shared many ideas for poli­cies and pro­grams that could sup­port their suc­cess. Among their rec­om­men­da­tions: Bet­ter access to men­tal health ser­vices — a move that could help both chil­dren who have been exposed to tox­ic stress and trau­ma and par­ents who are expe­ri­enc­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and depression.

Learn more about trau­ma-informed care

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