Young Parents Matter is a Big Lottery funded project, delivered by our team in Northern Ireland, to explore the views and experiences of young parents living in Northern Ireland.
Despite a fall in the overall rate of pregnancy in recent years the UK still has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. In Northern Ireland, teenage birth rate in the 20% most deprived areas of Northern Ireland was almost 7 times the rate in the 20% least deprived areas. Without the right support, advice and services these young parents face lower educational attainment and are at risk of unemployment.
With grant funding from Big Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, we worked with around 100 young parents to hear their views and experiences of parenthood. We wanted to find out what support they have access to and what they felt was missing. We also spoke with practitioners and service providers to hear their views on how support can be improved.
Working in participation
Working with young people from our Engage ‘N’ You group the majority of whom are young parents or about to become young parents.
The group were concerned about the difficulties they and their peers were facing and the lack of information available to them about their rights, entitlements and access to support services.
The project aimed to:
- Record the views and experiences of young parents living in Northern Ireland
- Identify what support is available to young parents who live in Northern Ireland and identify if there's anything missing from services to help young parents
- Look at how young parents can be better informed of support available to them in their area.
We gathered the views and experiences of 95 young parents from different localities across Northern Ireland and spoke to practitioners delivering support services to young people.
It was clear that on the whole these young people were enjoying the experience of being parents and with the right support, feel confident about bringing up their children.
However, they commonly reported experiences of stigma, judgement and discrimination, both during pregnancy and as a young parent, from a range of people including trusted professionals. Young mums talked about being looked at in a judgmental way.
"You get judged a lot [for example] when your baby cries. All babies cry not just mine because I'm young".
They felt it was important for professionals to accept and understand those feelings and to make them feel comfortable. There is a need for communication which provides positive reinforcement to young parents' self-concept rather than unintentionally undermining it.
Unfortunately, the voices of young fathers were as notably underrepresented in this project as in many others. The young fathers we did speak to reported feeling unsupported and uninvolved with a lack of targeted support.
The young people we spoke to all expressed the need for more social spaces, somewhere not to feel different and get support, somewhere to reduce the social isolation they can feel when becoming 'different from their peers'. Young parents told us they want to access information in safe spaces where they feel confident to ask questions, admit to making mistakes and be supported to understand parenting issues.
Hear from the young parents who took part themselves
From this we produced five recommendations:
- Practitioners and young parents should be supported to work together to develop communication guidance to positively reinforce capacity and confidence of young parents.
- An audit is needed of services to identify who is currently providing young fathers’ support and what key messages are being delivered. This audit should also identify to what extent young fathers are actively engaged in service development, delivery and evaluation.
- Services should review their delivery model to ensure they deliver services based on evidence of need of young parents taking into account barriers to engagement such as time of day, transport and childcare.
- Future service development must explore models of good practice in reaching young parents, diversifying the ways in which their information is provided including the use of social media platforms and online resources.
- A working group should be established to take forward the actions outlined in Recommendations 1-4. This group should involve professionals with responsibilities for health, education and welfare and young parents themselves.
Download our list of parenting support and referral agencies that can offer help and advice to young parent families.