What are some interventions and strategies to use when working with teen parents?
Working with families and young children needs to involve a holistic approach with access to additional services. Working with other partner agencies is important if your organization is exclusively childcare. More than likely, teen parents are living with their parents or an adult caregiver. There can be both benefits and challenges in these situations. My approach has always been to work directly with teen parents whenever possible and include their adult caregivers with their permission.
It is important to clearly identify the teen parent as the parent. Sometimes grandparents can influence a teen parent in concerning ways, such as encouraging the teen to use physical discipline. I say discipline or suggest that the child remains on the bottle to prevent them from crying. Again, that's beyond three years of age. Or in other cases, the grandparent may undermine the role of the teen parent with mixed messages to the staff.
I witnessed some children calling their grandmother Mom and their mother by their first name. Whenever there was a conflict between addressing the grandparent or the teen parent, I always focused on the child's best interests. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon to be placed in between and forced to take sides. I want to emphasize that grandparents can be extremely helpful and need help and support. Primarily, I serve teen mothers, but I always ask permission to include the child's father. The best approach was to work with both parents and serve the teen fathers' needs. I encountered single teen fathers occasionally because the mother was not involved due to child abuse issues. When working with teen parents, you are serving at least two and sometimes three generations, so be prepared to support all generations. As I mentioned, including fathers is extremely important. Be child and teen-driven when you're looking at goals. Finally, it's important to be flexible over time as things change.
Offering unconditional positive regard, coined by Carl Rogers, is also a highly effective approach. This means you tend to separate the person from their behavior to avoid judgment and continue caring about them. This allowed me to serve clients who were previously abusive or had committed illegal acts. The term use of self describes how helping professionals can integrate aspects of themselves into the relationship while still maintaining healthy boundaries. I believe that this is a powerful tool, particularly for teens. An example of this approach is to use your own feelings to move the client, such as I am really worried about you staying with your abusive partner. When all else fails, I share the bottom line and let them know the consequences of their behavior, particularly if it can endanger themselves or their child.
- Trust and rapport building and exploration of the perception of teens’ own history (how they see their story)
- Collaboration, contact, and communication with various agencies
- Patience while mediating own agenda
- Reflective practice while reviewing relationships with others, including home visitors/case managers
- Use of self including honesty, concern, respect, appropriate self-disclosure
- Being direct with compassion
- Openness without judgment or disapproval
It's important to have a warm handoff when working with other agencies and have particular contacts you can refer clients to with their permission. It's important to be direct with compassion because clients can sense when you're not being direct or genuine. Being open without judgment or disapproval can often be difficult.
Here are some other strategies or best practices.
- Establish collaborations and partnerships with other programs serving teens.
- Provide direct resources and appropriate referrals.
- Use effective screening tools and interviewing skills.
- Increase parenting skills and child development knowledge through interactions and modeling with useful information.
- Improve parent-child interactions, and strengthen parent-child attachment.
- Offer high-quality childcare with teen engagement opportunities.
- Promote financial literacy.
I want to reiterate that it's important to have that warm handoff. I remember when teachers forged strong relationships with parents and taught them many life skills, including how to properly take the baby's temperature or diaper it. Our staff often observed how teen parents appreciated their child's newfound skills, and often the children progress more than their parents. We use that as a vehicle for their own change.
As I said earlier, establishing collaborations and partnerships with other programs that serve teens is very important, as having knowledge of what you have available locally. Sometimes we make referrals that don't fit the client's needs. It's extremely important to involve teens in every aspect of childcare. Promoting financial literacy is the final point, but I would also discuss money and time management. Teaching them these skills can be very beneficial.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Kids with Kids: How to Support Them, presented by Sherrie Segovia, PsyD.