Health care reform helping teen parents

teenmomWhen teens get pregnant, they often lack the support and skills to successfully juggle school, work and a new baby. As a result, their children are at a higher risk for developmental delay, school issues and later adolescent high risk behaviors. But there’s hope: studies have shown that when teens receive home visits by nurses during pregnancy and after the birth of their child, parenting attitudes improve, school attendance goes up and repeat pregnancies decrease.

Now, in the biggest financial commitment to teen parenting support to date, the new health reform bill is dedicating $1.5 billion for home-visiting programs. Currently, teen parents seen at Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center (CHPCC) are eligible for home visits from Boston’s Healthy Babies, Healthy Child program Here, Joanne Cox, medical director of CHPCC, weighs in on the value of home visits.

Adolescent mothers who have not yet completed their own developmental milestones face many challenges as they parent their children. Teens often don’t understand normal child development and may have inadequate social supports and face stress as they juggle parenting with school and work.

During home visits, a nurse provides health, parenting and child development education, ensures that the child is receiving routine primary care, and screens for social problems. The nurse also helps the young parents with life skills such as assessing family planning, schools or job training. Visits occur every other week during pregnancy, weekly during infancy and then gradually decrease in frequency over the first two years.

As well as helping improve parenting attitudes and boosting school attendance, studies have also demonstrated reduced child abuse reports in children whose mothers received home visiting during pregnancy and the first few years after birth.

This large investment in evidence-based home visit programs for teen parents and their children is a momentous step towards improving the health of our families.