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Empowering Policies and Practices for Teen Mothers  

Crystal Machado and Wenxi Schwab

Early pregnancy is a global issue that occurs in high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Although the teen birth rate in the United States, which is high on the Human Development Index (HDI), has been declining since 1991, it continues to be substantially higher than that of other Western industrialized nations. For countries that are lower on the HDI, the teen birth rate is higher, partly because early marriages, pregnancy rates, and infant mortality rates are higher and more common in these regions. Except for some influential articles written by scholars in the Global south, much of the scholarship related to early pregnancy has been written by those in the Global north. Nevertheless, analysis of available scholarly literature in English confirms that several sociocultural factors—child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence/dating violence, family-related factors, poverty, early marriages, and rurality—lead to early pregnancy and/or school dropout. Although pregnancy can occasionally increase pregnant and parenting teens’ desire to persevere, the scholarly literature confirms that the majority need support to overcome the short- and long-term ramifications associated with early motherhood, such as stigma, expulsion and criminal charges, segregation, transition, strain and struggle, depression, children with behavioral problems, and financial instability. Based on the availability of human and financial resources, educators can use U.S.-based illustrative examples, with context-specific modification, to empower this marginalized group. Providing pregnant and parenting teen mothers with thoughtfully developed context-specific school and community-based programs has the potential to promote resilience, persistence, and a positive attitude toward degree completion. Schools that do not have access to federal, state, and locally funded programs can help teen moms thrive in the new and uncharted territory with inclusive community or school-driven policies and procedures such as the use of early warning systems (EWS) that generate data for academic interventions, mentoring, counseling, health care, and day care for young children.