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Teenage Sex Part 4
Irish Examiner 02/09/205

by Ailin Quinlan

In the final part of our series on teenagers and sex Aileen Quinlan looks at teen pregnancy and assesses the help available to young mothers

"Pregnancy makes you grow up very fast" Maria Mannering didn't like school. So at 17, instead of doing her Leaving Certificate, she went off to work in a supermarket. "I hated school and didn't want to be there," says the 19 year old from Tallaght. Shortly afterwards she discovered she was pregnant. At the time she was living in the family home with her mother, three brothers and little sister.

At first she couldn't bring herself to tell her Mum. "I didn't want to tell my mother, though I knew she would support me - she had already said to me she would if it ever happened to me. "I was in shock for a while. Then I decided I had to get on with it. Then I found out that I was due to have twins and I went into shock again! I didn't use a contraceptive."

These days, she says, she tell her friends to use them: "I tell them they'd be stupid not to. I love my daughters very much. However I am very young. When I had the babies I was just 17." When her mother did find out about the pregnancy, Maria says she was very supportive, accompanying the teenager to her appointments. Maria's labour was very difficult, but she got through it and her twin girls, Justine and Sophie were born in August 2003.

Maria stayed at her mother's house, until the twins were three months old and then settle in a three-bed roomed semi-detached house nearby. The babies' father maintains contact with the two-year-olds. He visits regularly and takes them out. "It was not as hard as I thought it would be, but I had support. I was living with my mother until they were three months old and then I found a place to live very close by." While she enjoys the independence her own home brings her, there are financial worries. "Paying the bills is an issue," she says. "There's more freedom because I have moved out of my mother's house and am more independent. I am more responsible now than before I had the babies. I hated school."

Ironically, it was the arrival of the babies, which turned her thoughts back to school, and set her on the path to the Leaving Certificate she had abandoned only a year or so before. When the results came out last month, Maria discovered that she had got six honours: English, Irish, Maths, Business, French and Geography. "If I did not have the babies now, God knows, I'd probably still be working in the supermarket. I went back to school because of the babies. I wanted a better life. I wanted to get a proper job and be able to provide for them.

"Pregnancy makes you grow up very fast. I didn't want them to grow up and look at me and say "You didn't even get your Leaving Cert so why are you telling us we have to go to school." With the support of her home/school liaison officer and the Teen Parent Support Programme, Maria was encouraged to go back and do her Leaving Certificate. Margaret Acton of Teen Parent Support arranged for the child to go into a crèche near Pearse College on Clogher Road. The Project funds the crèche, which allows me to go back to school. I did my Leaving Cert - six subjects at ordinary level."

Next month Maria plans to start a Post Leaving Certificate Course in languages for business and tourism and hopes eventually to find work in the travel or tourism industries. She attributes her success in coping to the strong support of her mother and to Margaret Acton of the Teen Parent Support Project. "Only for Margaret Acton and the project I would not have been able to go back to school. And my mother said she would mind them when I needed to study - and has my five- year-old sister to mind already. I wasn't ready to become pregnant a seventeen. I was very lucky with the support I got from my mother. Some people wouldn't have that support and without it life for a teenage lone parent would be very difficult - if you want to have sex use contraception or face the consequences - and the consequences are not easy. A lot of young girls don't think about the consequences - I didn't either. My mother warned me but I didn't listen. I did sex education in sixth class in primary school, but it was no use. I don't remember any major sex education classes at second level. I should be a big subject, it should drum into your head the consequences of unprotected sex and the need for contraception."

Tips for those involved in a crisis pregnancy

FOR THE MOTHER -TO-BE · Get information: Get all the information you need about your rights and entitlements. Try your local Youth Information Centre or Citizens information Centre. Organisations working with one-parent families can help you in getting the information you need.

Get Support. Many organisations working with one-parent families offer a counselling service. Seeing a counsellor can be a great way of getting support and working through problems ·

Learn abut parenting: Learning basic parenting skills can really help in making life a little easier for you and baby. Parenting courses are often offered by locally-based community groups. Your local public health nurse may be able to tell you about such courses. You could also contact your nearest Family Resource Centre for details of courses. One Family run a Positive Parenting course in Dublin. Phone 1890 662 212 for more information. ·

Mind your health: Start taking folic acid as early as possible in your pregnancy. As soon as you discover you are pregnant, visit your GP. ·

Health care is provided free to all expectant women through the GP, it is also provided for six weeks after the baby is born.


Fathers have an essential role to play in their children's healthy development and self esteem. If you are not going to be the full-time parent, start talking to the mother of your child as early as possible to find out how you can support her in parenting. It is important to try to talk about access arrangements as soon as possible so you can foster a positive relationship between you and your child. Remember, it is the right of the child to have access to his/her parent rather than the parent's right.


Parents can find it difficult to adapt to their new role as grandparent. You may feel angry and upset. You may fear a loss of your personal freedom if you think your assistance is needed in rearing the child. You may find it confusing to know when to proved support and when to step back - particularly if the young parent is living with you.

Attending mediation may help. The Family Mediation Service is a free mediation service that helps families work through problems they may be having in a practical way. Contact the Family Mediation Service on 01 6344 320. Grandparents-to-be can avail of a booklet, Being There For Them, from Treoir.

Left Holding The Baby

Throughout her career as a public health nurse, Margaret Acton was drawn to the problems facing teenage parents. "
I felt the services for them were pretty dismal. They were isolated and lonely, with little social support," says Acton, now project leader with the Teen Parent Support Programme in Barnardos in Dublin.

Married with two teenage sons she joined the programme in 2000. The referrals came in steadily - from public health nurses, social workers, home-school liaison teachers, youth and community organisations and friends.

Since the programme was sit up in early 2000, it has had more than 200 referrals. At any given time, says Acton, they can be dealing with up to 80 young mothers, aged 19 and under. Initially after the discovery of the pregnancy, she says, the young mothers-to-be tend to go into shock "for about 24 hours." Their mothers - the grandmothers-to-be - generally accept the situation quickly, she says. The girls' fathers, the grandfathers-to-be can be quite shocked and not as accepting of the pregnancy. They worry for the daughter or see a more gloomy future. They can be angry or withdrawn. They can feel a bit left out, a bit helpless, whereas the women have some notion of what you need to be. Not all the fathers are like that, of course."

Many of the young fathers-to be are quite interested in supporting the girl, she says. "About 40% of the fathers would remain involved with the young mother and child for a considerable time. Others are there for a few months and then disappear or do not remain involved. The girl can be very hurt or angry or can even be glad because they may not have been getting on."

The Barnardos programme is funded by the Department of Health under its pilot Teen Parent Support Programme, which was established in 1999 in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway. Funded under the National Childcare Investment Strategy, it is designed to help families headed by teen parents. "The idea was that there would be a worker there who would help them negotiate the hurdles of early parenthood up to the age of two," explains Margaret Doherty, assistant chief executive of the coordinating body Treoir.

Staff focus on issues like childcare, accomodation, education, training or domestic difficulties. Five branches were eventually established aroung the country - one each in Galway, Limerick and Louth, and two in Dublin. Two more are in the pipeline, though details have yet to be announced.

Charlotte Carey of CURA has noticed significant shifts in the levels of support for teenagers who experience a crisis pregnancy since the agency was set up in 1977. But she has also seen a sharp drop in the age profile of single mothers-to-be.

"Now we see girls at 15 with their boyfriends and partners. We would not have seen as many of the girls' parents then as we do today. Back then, they tended not to tell their parents as early in the pregnancy as they do now," she says.

When first established almost 30 years ago, CURA had five centres, and the women who availed of its services were usually aged between 18 and 25. A crisis pregnancy was a shock 28 years ago, and, for som people at least, says Carey, it's still a shock today when their 15, 16, 17, or 18-year-old daughter announces that she is pregnant. Many single young mothers-to-be are still anxious about their parents reaction to the news she has to give.

The grandparent's-to-be can be angry and confused. "Parents say, 'I am so angry and disappointed. I want to help, but just do not know what to do.' Often, parents will come to one of CURA's 16 centres and take counselling about it - they need to come to terms with the fact that they are becoming grandparents." It's not easym she says. "Often grandparents are both at work, or at college, their family are grown, then they discover a new baby is on the way. Initially, there are feelings of anger or resentment because they had felt, perhaps, the life had settled down."

For the boyfriend, she says, it's sometimes a case of wanting to get involved but whose girlfriend is no longer interested in talking to him. CURA provides counselling for everyone involved. "We provide space for thinking, time to explore and work through the issues. We are not there to judge or to tell anyone what to do. We will see anyone who asks to see a counsellor, there is no cost and no waiting list." Her message is: "Don't be afraid, come and speak to someone."

One Family director Karen Kiernan cites the three big issues confronting young teenage parents as education, childcare and accomodation. Because of the lack of a national policy on teenage parents in education, there is, she says, a glaring disparity in how teen parents are treated within the second level system. " Some girls may be asked to leave school, others may receive huge amounts of support. Accommmodation is a huge problem for young parents - under 18 - if you are in a position where you cannot stay at home, you have very limited options."

Similarly, says Kiernan, childcare is extremely difficult: "There is no uniformity in how childcare payments are made." Thus, for a minor, parental and family support is the key. Without family support, she says, teen parenting is incredibly difficult and with it, it is just about doable. "Teen parents are very vulnerable. Your school can kick you out, your parents can kick you out. We know of pregnant teenagers who have been kicked out of home and may end up in a bed and breakfast or in supported housing," she warns.

Teenage Pregnancy

In 2004, 2,560 teenagers gave birth of whom 53 were under the age of 16.

Between 1985 and 2002 some countries experienced a drop in their teen fertility levels - in Sweden the rate fell from 10.35 births per 1,000 teenagers in 1985 to 6.9 in 2002. In Ireland the number of births to 15-19 year olds increased from 17.34 in 1985 to 19.44 in 2002. The low teenage fertility rate in Sweden is partly the result of high rates of abortion.

The rates of abortion in Ireland amonst teenagers aged between 15 and 19 is low by international standards: in 2004 it was just 5.4 per cent per 1,000 compared to Sweden at 21.1; the UK at 23.6 abortions; Norway at 20; Denmark at 14; Scotland at 18.2 and New Zealand at 24.6.

Last year 6,217 Irish women travelled to Britain for abortions. This was a drop of 103 on the previous year. Of these 540 were between 18 and 19, 209 were aged between 16 and 17 and 49 were aged under 16.