Date of Defense:
April 28, 2017
Introduction. Recent reports estimate that of the approximately 6,000 homeless youth in Minnesota, 35% are parents, although many teen parents experiencing housing issues often go undetected due to conflicting definitions of homelessness (e.g., couch hopping) and their highly mobile nature (Wilder Research, 2016). As a result, the actual need for supportive housing options among homeless pregnant and parenting youth is likely underestimated due to insufficient statistical data. Currently, there are very limited shelter and supportive housing options for teen mothers under the age of 18 and no options for teen fathers under the age of 18 in Hennepin County. Without access to integrated social service supports, assistance programs, and stable housing, the difficulties and stressors presented to pregnant and parenting teens are exacerbated by the challenges associated with homelessness (National Network for Youth, 2014).
Organization. Hennepin County Teen Parent Connection (HCTPC) is a collaborative of approximately 80 organizations including school districts, social service agencies, health agencies, and government entities located within Hennepin County. The primary mission of HCTPC is to provide a system of evidence-based support for teen mothers and fathers to: (1) Develop means and motivation to delay second pregnancies; (2) Successfully complete education; and (3) Promote healthy growth of teens’ children through parenting support and early childhood screening. HCTPC works to provide the infrastructure, trainings, and resources needed to bring professionals from various disciplines together. There are currently four main HCTPC initiatives that provide input, identify barriers, and support teen parents to access services in Hennepin County: Steering, Advocacy, Quality Standards of Care, and Housing.
Experience. For my field experience, I supported the HCTPC Housing Initiative from July 2016 to December 2016. The efforts of the Housing Initiative are focused on determining the full extent of the needs of teen parents living apart from their families, as well as advocating for the development of supportive housing for both teen mothers and fathers living in Hennepin County. My main responsibility was to conduct a preliminary assessment of community needs by surveying professionals working with this particular population. My supervisor and I co-created a survey tool for the interviews to more clearly identify the demographics of homeless teen parents, the social services this population are accessing, and what additional services and/or supports are needed for teen parents to obtain and retain stable housing. My contributions included survey development, conducting surveys, data entry and monitoring, and some administrative tasks, including the management of the HCTPC website. The learning objectives for the Field Experience were to: (1) Increase the HCTPC organizational knowledge base regarding issues affecting pregnant and parenting teens in Hennepin County and throughout the U.S.; (2) Inform the Housing Initiative survey tool development and gain experience surveying professionals with interdisciplinary backgrounds; and (3) Strategize and recommend next steps for the annual HCTPC planning process. I successfully met all objectives.
I issued an invitation to participate in the preliminary needs assessment to 285 professional contacts in the Hennepin County area via Qualtrics. 105 individuals responded to the survey with 55 individuals considered eligible to participate as they were working directly with teen parents who had experienced housing issues in Hennepin County at some point between September 2015 and September 2016. I conducted 20 interviews by phone and 35 surveys were completed electronically using Qualtrics. Individual information on 77 teen parents ages 18 and under was gathered during the four-month data collection period. Information collected included: demographics; whether the teen was pregnant, parenting, or both; whether the teen was attending school; what circumstances had led to housing insecurity; the types of housing supports the teen was able to access; what types of support the professional provided the teen; and what additional resources professionals needed to better support this specific population. At the end of the data collection period, I tabulated all of the data and created a report for the HCTPC Steering Committee to utilize during their annual planning process in 2017.
During my field experience, I was also given the task to maintain the HCTPC website. My goal was to create a website that would best serve the various HCTPC stakeholders by posting resources relevant to professionals supporting pregnant and parenting teens. Initially, I took an inventory of resources and conducted an analysis of the functionality of the website, followed by an overall redesign to increase its accessibility and navigability.
Results. The number of homeless teen parents of color was disproportionately high compared to their prevalence in the population of all Minnesota youth. 89 percent of homeless teen parents were African American, American Indian, Asian, Latino, or Multiracial, compared to 26 percent of all Minnesota youth (Wilder Research, 2016). Fewer homeless teen parents were pregnant and parenting (13%), in comparison to homeless teens who were only parenting (67%) and only pregnant (20%). Although some teen parents had dropped out (28%) or had plans to enroll in online courses and/or pursue their GED (4%), the majority of homeless teen parents were attending school (68%). Relatively few homeless teens were utilizing shelter services (19%), in comparison to those temporarily staying with extended family members (35%) or couch hopping (46%). Various factors contributed to teen parents’ homelessness including: inability to remain together with a co-parent or child in a shelter or supportive housing; experiencing abuse or conflict; or being kicked out of their parents’ home.
Lessons Learned / Recommendations. Throughout my field experience, I not only increased my personal knowledge regarding the complex challenges faced by homeless teen parents and the professionals who support them, but I also developed survey design and development skills in Qualtrics and web development skills using Wix.
Recommendations for HCTPC Housing Initiative
- Conduct interviews with teen parents experiencing homelessness to gain further insight regarding their specific needs.
- Survey additional professionals to learn more about the systemic barriers and challenges associated with access to assistance programs; and explore ways to more effectively and accurately gather data about prevalence of homeless teen parents.
- Continue to advocate at the local and state level to garner additional support for housing development and integrated case management services for homeless teen parents.
Conclusion. Homeless pregnant and parenting youth face a set of multifaceted challenges and require unique services to help them develop and thrive as individuals and parents. Further research should focus on best practices and look to existing successful models of supportive housing options for teen parents that promote self-sufficiency, housing stability, financial stability, engaged parenting and attachment, and healthy relationships (Barry, Desiderio, Ikramullah, Manlove, Max, & Scott, 2014). Concerted efforts to strengthen organizational partnerships and multidisciplinary supports will have positive impacts on the developmental trajectory for homeless teen parents and their children alike.
Barry, M., Desiderio, G., Ikramullah, E., Manlove, J., Max, J., & Scott, M. E. (2014). Bricks, Mortar, & Community: The Core Components of Supportive Housing for Pregnant & Parenting Teens. Baltimore: Author.
National Network for Youth. (2014). Issue Brief: Pregnant and Parenting Homeless Youth. Retrieved from https://www.nn4youth.org/policy-advocacy/fact-sheets-and-issue-briefs/
Wilder Research. (2016). Homelessness in Minnesota: Findings from the 2015 Minnesota Homeless Study. Retrieved from http://mnhomeless.org/pdfs/2015HomelessnessInMinnesota_11-16.pdf