Participation in Action: Young parents educate peers on the realities of parenthood

Adam Offord
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Young mothers and fathers are gaining new skills and preventing teenage pregnancies by educating school children about the realities of parenthood.

Provider Straight Talking Peer Education

Name Employment and Empowerment Project

Young parents are educating secondary school pupils about the harsh realities of caring for a small child when still young yourself, as part of programme aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies and helping parents gain new skills.

The Employment and Empowerment Project, which is run by charity Straight Talking Peer Education, sees young parents employed as "peer educators" to secondary school pupils in London and the West Midlands.

Ruben Vemba, dad's team co-ordinator at Straight Talking Peer Education, says the peer educators are trained to deliver weekly parenting sessions in schools, over a three- or four-week period. The hour-long sessions cover a range of issues including how to deal with a crying baby.

The sessions also look at how having a child will affect personal finances, explains Vemba.

"It has information about how the housing system works, budgeting, and understanding how much money and benefits you are entitled to," he says.

"We try to get the pupils to understand how to manage the lack of money they would have," he adds.

Practical skills

The pupils are also taught practical skills, such how to use a buggy - in particular the tricky task of carrying it up and down stairs - and how hard it is to concentrate on everyday tasks while a baby is crying.

In addition to educating teenagers on the realities of parenting, Vemba says the project also gives the peer educators "an opportunity to develop, build confidence and improve their personal skills".

After taking part in the peer education course, the young parents can then be employed in an administrative role in the organisation's office.

"There is a 16-hour position in the office that requires them to co-ordinate school bookings and delivering [the course] as well," explains Vemba.

"There is also a full-time managerial position in the office, so teenage parents have options to move up the career ladder."

However, the charity understands this may not be the career path all young parents want to follow, so when the peer educators start, Straight Talking looks at their qualifications, the areas of work they are interested in and tries to find particular courses or training that would suit them.

Peer educator Shannon says life was difficult as a single mother to a one-year-old son, but becoming a peer educator has helped turn things around.

"I felt like I had a purpose apart from just being a mother, and I could better provide for my son," she explains. "When I speak to young people in schools, I try and help them realise that they can aspire to anything, with hard work and determination."

Vemba says the young parents receive a minimum-wage salary while training to become educators, but after they qualify they charge schools £20 for a one-hour session.

He adds that the charity also aims to recruit new young people to become peer educators every month, with the requirement being that mothers must have had a child before the age of 21 and fathers must be aged under 25.

"In 2014/15, Straight Talking employed 48 teenage parents," Vemba says. "The average number of people we recruit every month is now nine."

Straight Talking worked with 39 schools last year, with 216 courses being delivered by young parents to 6,480 students across London, Hertfordshire, Surrey and the West Midlands. Feedback from secondary school students about the sessions and the use of teenage parents has also been positive.

Vemba says the charity is hoping to reach 80 schools in 2016, while there are plans to expand to Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Cardiff.

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