By: Rosemary D. Oglesby-Henry, CEO & Founder of Rosemary’s Babies Co.
Kate Barret wrote, “the vast majority of street girls began their downward course by being deceived, and no door being opened to them…So, they fell deeper and deeper.” Ms. Barret wrote these words more than two decades ago but they remain true to the experiences of teen mothers today – especially considering 35% of teen parents in Greater Cincinnati suffer from housing, clothing, and food insecurity.
Rosemary’s Babies Co. opened our doors in 2016 prepared to address the long-term and short-term barriers of teen parents in Greater Cincinnati. Our mission was to help teen parents master the concepts of self-leadership to leave a legacy and become productive citizens. Our goal was to create a network of support for teen parents and a plan that would change the trajectory for their entire family, three generations: teen parents, children, and grandparents. This would be accomplished by providing young parents education, resources, and family support both virtually and in-person. Successfully, we have served more than 1,200 teen parents to date.
Prior to our conception, research conveyed that, though our government had spent decades addressing the prevention of adolescent pregnancy, it had failed to address both the trauma and barriers teens face when choosing to parent, and the services these mothers and fathers need to be good parents and successful adults. By not supporting teen parents proactively, our society has lost countless opportunities to divert teen parents away from poverty, dependence on governmental benefits, dual pregnancies, sex-trafficking, infant mortality/pre-term births, and homelessness. Their children are often left at an unfair educational disadvantage, as most young mothers cannot register their children for Head Start or child care without their own parents’ consent. In addition, Black babies are too often born pre-term, and caregivers frequently fail to educate these young moms on the benefits of breastfeeding, as some feel the young moms are not competent to understand.
As the issue of Black Maternal Health in Ohio is discussed, it is imperative to include the teen mother. In 2019 there were 18.8 births per 1,000 girls ages 16 to 19. In many rural areas, these numbers prove to be higher and the barriers to seeking supportive services are far greater.
Developing these young parents' minds and capabilities are core to the overall success for themselves and their children, as parents are a child’s first teacher. Per the proven research of Groundwork Ohio, Ohio’s economy is even influenced by the health and development of our youngest children who, in a matter of years, will be part of our workforce. Factor in rising economic costs, an affordable housing crisis, and inequitable wages of women, and it’s clear that our teen parents will be sentenced to a life of poverty and social injustice upon adulthood if we do nothing but continue to close doors.
We can no longer separate ourselves from a population that is in desperate need of change. In fact, if you are a parenting teen under the age of 18 in Hamilton County there is no place for you to go when you are ejected from your home. Our organization, in collaboration with our partners, is working to create legislative policies that would allow some grace for these teen parents to continue to thrive and prosper. They include:
1. Fund Holloway House & Resource Center, which is a proposed managed site for teen parents. This facility will provide wellness, education, resources, and supportive housing for teen parents in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The facility will reside in the urban core near local hospitals allowing for more access to health care. The Holloway House will offer workforce development, trauma-informed care plans, case management, and educational support for our youngest babies to support their development. (www.rosemarysbabies.co/changetheoutlook)
2. Create a policy and/or expand parental rights for teen parents 16 years and older. These rights might include:
Incorporating limited medical rights. In Ohio, people under 18 who are in labor cannot consent to their own health care. They can receive emergency services, but nothing considered to be elective. For the many Ohio minors who become pregnant, it's a painful gap in coverage. In Ohio, a doctor cannot perform the Cesarean section without parental consent, until her delivery condition is considered a “medical emergency.” This unnecessarily risks the health of the mother and unborn child. Ohio is one of 13 states that has no explicit policy allowing a minor to consent to prenatal and pregnancy-related care.
Extend support to make it easier for teen parents to access child care i.e., reducing the age to sign up teen parents for vouchers without parental consent.
Expand the Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit to teen parents.
3. Create a plan for expanded social and emotional support for teen parents and their children in schools and Head Start. The children of teen parents are far more likely to fall behind and have learning disabilities due to trauma. To reverse this, we propose that Head Start and preschool facilities do an early evaluation of children of teen parents. Additionally, these children should receive additional tutoring and support to ensure they are developmentally where they need to be and have the opportunity to get ahead. They should also be given preference for specialized programs or no/low-cost opportunities.
If you have a teen parent in need of support, please visit www.teenparentresources.org.
Rosemary Oglesby-Henry is the founder and CEO of Rosemary's Babies Company, a Cincinnati-based impact organization (501c3) committed to helping teen parents master the concepts of self-leadership to leave a legacy. Rosemary herself was a teen parent and has dedicated her life to changing the outlook for teen parents.