South Side Stories Spotlight, January 2015: Loss

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. This January, we reflect on loss. Personal loss challenges, forms, and transforms us. Grief and bereavement are particularly poignant for adolescents. In this month’s spotlight, we feature stories by Charles, Nailah and Jajuan, in which each youth grapples with family loss. Through these stories, we experience death after a long life, death after a brief life, and finally a story of premature loss due to incarceration. South Side Stories highlights the bravery of storytellers and the power of stories. As we welcome the New Year, we salute these youth, their courage, and their stories of loss and of hope.

South Side Stories January 1

In All I Have, Charles presents his perspective on the death of two family members. Charles opens with an emphasis on how important family is to him, juxtaposing images of his family against words about his struggle with his peers and community. His narration has a clear rhyme and rhythm, though peppered with sudden interruptions and pauses, not unlike those brought on by the loss of his loved ones. He fondly remembers times with his grandfather and cousin, then tells of the shock and hurt of his grandfather passing and his cousin’s suicide. Charles incessantly questions, “Why? … I just kept wondering: why?” While he clearly appreciates and loves the family he currently has, he still wonders, “Sometimes, I wish he would just bring them back.”

In In Memory Of, Nailah brings us into the intimate moment of her grandmother’s death. Nailah’s story begins at a festive time — her graduation from grammar school — before quickly turning to the hospitalization of her grandmother.  As “things got really crazy,” she jumps forward two months, when her grandmother’s health has declined. Throughout her piece, Nailah contrasts actual events with ideal events. She tells us how her grandmother felt sick and looked beautiful. She describes her grandmother’s sickness as a blur, but paints a finely detailed scene: the coldness in her grandmother’s hand, the hospital bed, and her own body on a hot day in August. Nailah struggles with the doctors and nurses coming to “help save” her grandmother in those last few moments, as “people of no significance” block Nailah’s view of someone so significant to her. The contrasts in Nailah’s story illustrate the conflict that arises when letting someone go – someone who was so lively, yet passes away quietly.

Finally, in Searching, Jajuan reminds us that loss is not only due to death. Instead, Jajuan struggles when his father is incarcerated. When his father is sent to jail, he struggles with his father’s absence, and with comprehending what his father had done. He starts us just where he started, not knowing why his father was taken away, before slowly revealing the truth he learned. “The day you went away I sat and wondered, ‘What did he do?’ They would never tell me. I guess I was too young to understand…” Despite his father’s absence, Jajuan asks his father pointed questions, and challenges his father to reflect on his actions. However, when his dad returns, Jajuan’s words and description soften dramatically, as he recognizes he is searching not only to  understand his father’s actions and imprisonment, but also for a connection to someone who he had lost.

Click here for the full January spotlight, which includes broader implications and a resource guide.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

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South Side Stories Spotlight, December 2014: Bedroom Culture and Providing Safe Spaces for Youth

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. In December, we considered bedroom culture and safe spaces for youth. As we all think of things to be grateful for this holiday season, South Side Stories considers those places where young people feel safe and those people who support them.

This topic is particularly poignant as last month, the Chicago community lost one of its own, Brother Mike Hawkins. We take this occasion to honor him and others who create safe spaces for young people. Brother Mike collaborated on some of our earliest digital stories and we will cherish his memory.

brother mike

Brother Mike Hawkins, right, with a student in an early digital storytelling workshop. Photo: Seed Lynn

Click here for the full December Spotlight, including broader implications and a resource guide.

Click here for the November Spotlight.

First in this month’s stories, two young women share narratives that allow us to step inside their most sacred spaces: their bedrooms.  For decades, scholars have theorized about teenage “bedroom culture,” a phrase coined by McRobbie and Garber (1975). For teenage girls, bedrooms were originally conceived of as ideal settings for escaping domestic duties and pursuing home-based leisure activities. Decades later, teenage girls on the South Side of Chicago remind us of the importance of privacy. In their stories, Mariah and Tyana describe the different ways in which their personal spaces respond to their individual needs and lives.

In Precious Things, Mariah reflects on why she spends so much time in her room. With vibrantly colored walls, Mariah’s bedroom is decorated with a number of artifacts that help to keep some of her fondest memories alive. She recognizes that her bedroom is a refuge but asks herself, “What am I trying to escape?” Ultimately, she concludes that her room represents more than simply an escape from the world outside. “It’s my own personal time capsule,” she explains, “where every precious memory finds a home.”

In contrast, Tyana describes her room in Family Life as the place where she escapes from the arguments that occur between her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. The room’s thin white walls don’t actually help to keep the sounds out, so Tyana finds herself feeling “stuck with nowhere to go and no one to love.” Rather than finding comfort or refuge from the outside world, Tyana’s room becomes the space where she questions both her worth and self-beauty. “I wonder, is it me?” she asks aloud. “Am I ugly? Am I not perfect for my own family?”

Finally, in Waiting for the Bell Ava describes being isolated and lonely at school. She pushes open the heavy school door and hears laughter, which might just be a joke or might be people laughing at her. Yet once the school bell rings and the day ends, she has a place that she can go to.  There, “the doors were lighter, the room was brighter, my voice triumphed, and my presence was honored.”

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

Coercion and Reproductive Justice

An essential piece of the reproductive justice and sexual rights movement is the right of all women to make reproductive choices free from coercion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, coercion in any form is wrong and compromises choice. Coercion violates women’s right to decide freely if and when to have a child and the right to have the government respect her decision.

The Guttmacher report condemns coercion in the form of U.S. state legislatures passing increasingly restrictive abortion restrictions to keep women from ending an unwanted pregnancy. Parental notification or consent, mandatory waiting periods, and inaccurate and biased counseling exist under the guise of “preventing coerced abortion”. Rather, these TRAP laws aim not so much to inform women about the abortion procedure, as to dissuade them from choosing an abortion in the first place.

Increasingly, these laws prevent women from making decisions about how and when to give birth, posing a risk to all pregnant women, including those who want to stay pregnant.

Roe v. Wade gave women the right to choose abortion. Roe v. Wade also gave women the right not to choose abortion.

In the United States, a dark history of forced sterilization and present day controversies about the rights of the disabled remind us that as much as women have a freedom to abortion, if she chooses to continue a pregnancy, she has the equal right to do so.

Coerced abortion occurs in many forms. In January 2014, a Florida man was sentenced  to nearly 14 years in prison for tricking his pregnant girlfriend into taking Cytotec, a brand-name version of misoprostol, which causes miscarriage. Further complicating the issue, he was initially charged with first-degree murder under the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, punishable by life in prison, but he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of product tampering. The fetus was estimated to be at seven weeks.

In 2013 in Texas, a pregnant 16 year old girl claimed her parents were pressuring her to have an abortion when she wanted to continue the pregnancy and get married. When the pregnancy was confirmed, the teenager’s father allegedly became angry and insisted that she have an abortion and it was his decision.  Texas is one of the states that requires parental or judicial permission for a minor to obtain abortion; in this case, the minor had to obtain judicial permission not to have an abortion.

Coerced abortion compromises reproductive justice and often results from broader issues such as domestic and sexual violence, birth control access and tampering, economic disadvantage, education expectations, and religious convictions. Abortion is not the problem. The prevention of choice is the problem.

Jcr_my_body_my_choice

South Side Stories Spotlight, November 2014: Sexual Coercion

South Side Stories November

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago.

November’s South Side Spotlight focuses on sexual coercion, a critical topic for adolescents. Sexual coercion refers to the act of making another person engage in sexual activity against their will (Brousseau, Bergeron, Hébert & McDuff, 2011). This term includes rape and sexual assault, as well as acts that persuade someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity, such as using pressure, drugs or alcohol. Sexual violence is achieved through physical force, threats, emotional manipulation, consistent pressure, fear or coercion.

Two stories are presented, one from a young man, who experienced childhood sexual abuse, and another from a young woman, who experienced rape. In The Unveiling, the male narrator is just beginning to talk about his sexual trauma, although several years have passed since the event occurred. I was 10 and barely knew about sex. But this tragic process was continuously repeated.  And I? …Remained silent.  It’s seven years later and I’m finally starting to confront my feelings, I am wondering why it has taken so long.

In his story, the narrator discusses a challenge common to many victims of sexual assault: the difficulty of telling people what has happened, which may be especially hard for boys and men. Who could I have turned to? he asks. Family? Friends? Someone at school…where teachers are too busy and social workers switch year after year? The silence that shrouds his experience is depicted by the word “Shhh” on the blackboard. His comments highlight the importance of ensuring that youth have trusting relationships with adults with whom they can share their experiences regarding sexual violence. Despite this violence, he ends his story on a hopeful note, with the declaration that he still “deserves love and care.”

The second story, Untitled, recounts the experience of a young woman who was raped by a man. The narrator shares her memories of the event and how she felt disassociated from her experience with sexual violence: I am watching the situation as if it isn’t even me. Watching her underneath him. Panting. Crying. Pleading for him to stop. Too weak to fight, too scared to scream. I want to ask her: How did you get into this situation? I want to ask him: If she’s so beautiful… how could you do this?

Remembering the event trigger[s] memories that leave you feeling stuck. We also hear the narrator’s disappointment at not having experienced first love in the way she imagined: Her first love, her first kiss, it should be a positive thing, but that’s not her story. Though impacted by her experience, she is aware that she can move past this. There’s this beautiful girl trapped inside of me, who is not running, or scared of her dreams.

We thank the authors for sharing their stories and honor their courage.

The following are national resources available to victims of sexual violence:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

1 (800) 656-HOPE

https://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-hotline

Department of Defense Hotline

(877) 995-5247

https://www.safehelpline.org/ 

Stop It Now

If you need immediate assistance, please contact either your local police, 911 or hospital. You can also contact ChildHelp at 1.800.4ACHILD (1.800.422.4453).

(413) 587-3500

http://www.stopitnow.org/warning_signs_child_behavior

Men Can Stop Rape

(202) 265-6530

http://www.mencanstoprape.org/

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

(717) 909-0710 Phone
(877) 739-3895 Toll Free

http://www.nsvrc.org/bystander-intervention-campaigns-and-programs

The following resources are available to victims of sexual violence in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan area.

Rape Crisis Hotline

Call (888) 293-2080 in Chicago Metropolitan Area
Call (630) 971-3927 in DuPage County
Call (708) 748-5672 in the South Suburbs

http://www.ywcachicago.org/site/c.fmJWKcOZJkI6G/b.8243031/k.F95D/Rape_Crisis_Hotline.htm

Rape Victim Advocates (RVA)

(312) 443-9603

http://www.rapevictimadvocates.org

Young Women’s Association of Metropolitan Chicago (YWCA)

(312) 733-2102, ext. 2146

http://www.ywcachicago.org/

Click here for a full Spotlight including broader research and policy implications.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

New Section research promotes parent–daughter communication about abortion before pregnancy occurs

parent_daughters

Press Release

Published: 13 October 2014

 

Discussing sexuality and reproductive health is a complex issue for parents and their daughters. Parents often feel ill-prepared to initiate these talks, and their daughters often fear a negative reaction or perceive judgment for their sexual activity. Yet, numerous studies have shown that, in general, parent-daughter communication leads to positive sexual health outcomes with regards to pregnancy and STI/HIV prevention.

New Section research, published online ahead of print in the Journal of Adolescent Health, discusses the role and potential impact of parent-daughter communication about abortion among non-pregnant adolescents. These conversations, the authors suggest, may decrease pregnancies and abortion and obviate the need for forced communication.

Currently, 38 states legislate communication between abortion-seeking minors and their parents via Parental Involvement (PI) laws, which require minors 18 years old and under to notify or obtain consent from a parent(s) or guardian before obtaining an abortion. PI supporters argue that these laws promote communication and provide young women with family support. PI opponents maintain that forced communication during the time of crisis can harm young women and delay treatment, increasing the medical risk of a procedure. Furthermore, studies show that most adolescents voluntarily involve parents in their decisions about pregnancy resolution, especially when they anticipate support.

Our qualitative study found that only 43 percent of nonpregnant African-American adolescent females had ever discussed abortion with a parent. Almost half were sexually active, and the vast majority stated they would voluntarily tell a parent of an abortion decision “as soon as possible” or “within one to two weeks.” However, nearly 20 percent acknowledged risk and expressed fears of hurt, punishment, and eviction if their parent learned about an abortion.

The study identified several correlates of parent-daughter communication about abortion. Parents who had had talked about other sexual health topics (e.g. birth control and STIs) were more likely to have discussed abortion with their daughter. If daughters perceived parental acceptance of sexual activity, they were more likely to have an abortion communication. A mother’s experience with teenage pregnancy was positively associated with abortion communication, although the study did not assess the positive or negative quality of the communication. Of concern, sexually active adolescents were less likely to communicate about abortion.

Ultimately, this study found that rather than mandating communication at the time of abortion, policies should focus on general parent-daughter communication about sexual health. Policies that force communication at the time of abortion appear misplaced.

Read the full article here.

Reference

Sisco K, Martins S, Kavanaugh E, Gilliam M. Parent-Daughter Communication About Abortion Among Nonpregnant African-American Adolescent Females. Journal of Adolescent Health. Published online ahead of print September 27, 2014: DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.07.010

 

Section study finds young women involve a parent in abortion when they anticipate support

‘Cause it’s like, ‘man what are they going to think’ and ‘are they going to hate me for this?’ That is what goes through your mind.

When a young woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy, how does she decide whether to talk to a parent? A recent study from the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research at the University of Chicago found that pregnant teens will turn to parents and adults who are engaged in their lives and who will offer support, regardless of her decision. Young women will avoid talking with parents who are less involved or may try to prevent them from seeking care.

The study, recently published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health, explored the factors young women under age 18 consider when deciding to involve a parent. Researchers conducted interviews with 30 minors seeking abortion in Illinois, prior to implementation of a parental notice law in 2013. Currently, there are 38 states with laws requiring a parent provide consent or receive notification before a minor can access abortion.

Image courtesy of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (icah.org)

Image courtesy of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (icah.org)

“There’s a commonly accepted idea that teens will try to hide their pregnancy or abortion decision. However, pregnant young women actually do turn to parents in the majority of cases. In our study, 70% of the young women involved a parent or guardian. They thought carefully about which parents and adults in their lives they could turn to for help in making their decision,” said Lee Hasselbacher, policy researcher at the Section of Family Planning.

While each young woman’s family circumstance was different, there were several common motivations for involving a parent. Factors in favor included close and supportive relationships, need for help with logistics like travel or payment, or experiences that made discovery of the pregnancy seem inevitable.

I mean, I wouldn’t normally tell my dad but it came to a point where I needed another $50 for the abortion to be done and so I relied on daddy.

Minors expressed a range of motivations for not telling a parent about their abortion as well. Some teens worried that if their parent learned of their decision, it would dramatically change their relationship or feared it would even lead to anger or harm. Young women also discussed the lack of a relationship or presence as a reason they did not want to involve a parent.

To me that [disclosing pregnancy and abortion] would start a whole lot of drama and right now um, our relationship is like- is kind of on good terms but it’s not so for me telling her this um, I think it like would go back down the drain.

One of the strongest findings was that among those young women who did not involve either parent, most were concerned that one or both parents would directly interfere with their decision to get an abortion.

She just told me, like, it’s not right… and she told me like, if I did get pregnant, like, she told me she wouldn’t let me have one. She said it’s my responsibility.

“This study reveals the complicated lives of pregnant young women and suggests that young women, not policymakers, are the ones best able to identify those people in their lives who can help them deal with a pregnancy. This study reinforces the need to listen to these young women and support policies that encourage family communication long before a pregnancy or abortion decision,” said Dr. Melissa Gilliam, Chief of the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research and author on the study.

Reference

Hasselbacher LA, Dekleva A, Tristan S, Gilliam ML. Factors Influencing Parental Involvement Among Minors Seeking an Abortion: A Qualitative Study. Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print September 11, 2014: e1-e5. Doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302116.

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Digital Media and Sexually Transmitted Infections

Image from the Huffington PostYoung people account for nearly half of all new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STI) each year. In order to reduce risk behaviors and related health problems, new approaches and strategies for STI prevention increasingly employ digital media, which includes computer programs, smartphone apps, digital videos and audio recordings, web pages and websites, and social media.

Dr. Melissa Gilliam, Dr. Julie Chor, and Dr. Brandon Hill reviewed the recent literature on this intersection of technology and sexual health in the latest issue of Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Their article Digital Media and Sexually Transmitted Infections presents and critiques the potentiality to reduce sexual risk behaviors by employing technological interventions.

In particular, the article explores the impact of digital media use on increasing STI risk, how digital media can disseminate public health information, and what new and innovative digital media interventions are currently employed to prevent and treat STIs.

The literature points out that since young people interact with digital media daily, health care providers should not only embrace these technologies for their health interventions, but also recognize the potential risks of using these types of communication. For example, young people send and receive up to 100 texts per day. Such ubiquity has ushered in new modes of sexual communication, including sexting. In addition to the risks that come when sharing sexually explicit words or photographs, public health researchers have asked whether sexting can influence STI or HIV risk behaviors — this article reviews some of that data.

New modes of digital media and communication also impact health-seeking behaviors, whereby youth obtain health information by actively engaging with peers or anonymously searching for content. Although adolescents use digital media to disclose information and engage in relationships, studies show that they also express strong privacy concerns about seeking health information on these platforms.

The authors also comment on sexual health interventions that used a technology, including one that tested a text messaging system that sent reminders about an STI checkup and another study that used Facebook to create HIV awareness and intervention. The authors found these varying studies inconclusive, but acknowledge the value of establishing the potential of using these technologies in public health research and advocacy. However, a better understanding of how social media and other digital media contribute to sexual behaviors is critical to understanding increasing STI rates among adolescents.

Read the entire article and summaries of existing research here.

 

Section Faculty Co-Edit New Book on Contraception

Section chief Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH, and Section faculty Amy Whitaker, MD, MSc, have co-edited the book Contraception for Adolescent and Young Adult Women. Published by Springer, the book provides evidence-based and up-to-date information for clinicians, as well as resources to pass on to patients. Dr. Gilliam is also Founder and Director of Ci3 (the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health).

From the Springer website:

Now more than ever there is a need for youth to learn about and use contraception consistently and effectively. Contraception for Adolescent and Young Adult Women is a valuable resource for gynecologists and primary care practitioners who are on the front lines when it comes to discussing, recommending, and prescribing contraceptive options to adolescent and young adult women … This book serves as an excellent reference for family physicians, adolescent medicine physicians, gynecologists, and anyone who wishes to learn and implement best contraceptive counseling and provision practices.

Contraception for Adolescent and Young Adult Women will be available in softcover and ebook on May 31. Preorder here.

Research: Adolescents Optimistic about the Role Motherhood Will Play in their Lives

Over one million adolescent girls get pregnant in the United States each year.(1) And of all adolescent mothers, roughly 25% give birth to a second child within two years of giving birth to their first.(2) Teenage motherhood has been traditionally associated with high school dropout, lack of college enrollment and limited future job prospects, promoting a predisposition towards poverty.(1) Unarguably, many of these adolescent mothers will experience hardships in maintaining economic stability. However, that is not the outcome for all teen mothers, nor does it have it be.

In contrast to the pervasive media messages of judgment and expected failure toward pregnant teenagers, it has been shown that positive social support of teen mothers has been correlated with maternal competency behaviors, feelings of love towards the infant, and gratification in the maternal role.(3) Teen parents who were able to remain living with their parents or relatives have been more likely to return to school, to obtain a high school diploma, to be employed, and to be free from welfare dependence.(4,5,7) Further, it has been documented that pregnant adolescents who give as well as receive support from their parents report higher levels of childcare mastery and life satisfaction than teens without this bi-directional support.(6) Even more astonishing is that many adolescents who experience pregnancy at a young age manage to not view themselves as pigeonholed into the typical “failure as inevitable” stereotype. On the contrary, many young women viewed pregnancy as a positive force in their life.(4)

In The Postpartum Adolescent Birth Control Study, researchers from The University of Chicago’s Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research sought to answer this two-fold question: “What are the future goals of adolescent mothers, and what factors may be influencing those goals?” During the course of the first post-partum year, researchers interviewed teenage mothers five times to examine contraceptive use, health status, social support, and risk of repeat pregnancy. The results were surprising. In addition to viewing pregnancy as an inevitable life event in their teen years, there were also common beliefs that pregnancy would not limit their educational achievement or career goals and was a positive life event. In fact, many teenage mothers reported a belief that having a child would not only not hinder them from desired accomplishments, but would push them to achieve more than they had otherwise planned.(4) In one instance, a study participant stated:

“…People think that once you have a child when you’re a teenager you can’t do nothing else with your life, you can’t have a high school diploma… I [want to] be able to graduate and let my daughter see me.”

Yet another study participant described her desire to escape unsafe living environments in order to provide a better life for her child:

“… Every day you hear about somebody getting killed, robbed … I have a baby and I don’t want none of that for her.”

An ecological framework of the study.

An ecological framework of the study.

Further study results revealed that an initial desire for financial and residential stability, family members’ professional backgrounds and recent life experiences were significant contributing factors toward shaping both short and long-term goals of these young mothers.(6) Especially poignant were study results which indicated having a child did not deter participants from a strong desire for financial success and educational achievement. Study findings suggest that traditional stereotypes of teenage mothers should be challenged, in part to encourage young women to pursue goals they may have more motivation to work toward as a new mother. Further research should explore how teenage mothers perceptions of their pregnancies are affected by media messages and how they restructure their lives to achieve life goals after becoming parents.

Citations

1. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Why It Matters.

2. Hofferth SL, Reid L, Mott FL. The effects of early childbearing on schooling over time. Family Planning Perspectives. 2001;33:259-67.

3. Mercer, R.T., Hackley, K.C., & Bostrum, A. (1984). Social support of teenage mothers. Birth Defects, 29, 245-290.

4. Future Goals of Adolescent Mothers. Chicago: Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research, The University of Chicago (2011).

5. Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy; May 2001.

6. Stevenson, W., Maton, K.I., & Teti, D.M. (1999). Social support, relationship quality, and well-being among pregnant adolescents. Journal of Adolescence 22, 109-121.

7. Cooley, M.L., & Unger, D.G. (1991). The role of family support in determining developmental outcomes in children of teen mothers. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 21(3), 217-234.

Success in School: Efforts to Improve Education for Students who are Pregnant, Parenting or Survivors of Violence

Pregnancy and parenthood does not have to mark the end of education for young men and women. Yet, according to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly half of all female dropouts say that becoming a parent played a role in their decision to leave school, and 33% of female dropouts said pregnancy was a major factor. Additionally, 24% of male say that becoming a parent played a role in their leaving school, and 19% said it was a major factor.

Life becomes increasingly difficult for young parents who drop out of school. Only 51% of women who have a child before age 20 earn a high school diploma before age 22. Education prospects for pregnant or parenting young women become bleaker at the higher-education level. Two percent of women who have a child before age 18 earn a college degree by age 30. This lack of education means that young parents who drop out of school are more likely than their peers to be unemployed or underemployed, and those who obtain work, earn significantly less than their peers who graduate from high school.

These statistics and studies were recently reviewed at a Town Hall held by The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) following the national release of the U.S. Department of Education’s recommendations to support the academic success of pregnant and parenting students under Title IX.

Image from ICAH

Image from ICAH

Before Congress passed Title IX in 1972, pregnant or parenting students were often discriminated against and sometimes dismissed from high school. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination, including on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and parental status.

The recommendations in the Office of Civil Rights’ June 2013 publication include:

  • A pregnant student must be allowed to remain in her regular classes and school if she chooses. Any alternative arrangement must be comparable to the regular school program in academic, extracurricular and enrichment opportunities.
  • Schools must treat pregnant students in the same way that they treat other students with temporary medical conditions. Thus, any special services and arrangements in place must also be provided to pregnant students, such as at-home tutoring and extensions on assignments.
  • A school must excuse a student’s absences because of pregnancy or childbirth for as long as the student’s doctor deems the absences medically necessary. When a student returns to school, she must be allowed to return to the same academic and extracurricular status as before and have the opportunity to make up missed work. Similarly, parenting students must have excused absences when they need to care for sick children or take them to doctors’ appointments.
  • A school must provide assistant to a pregnant or parenting student, such as providing a larger desk or designating a private room for breastfeeding during the school day.
  • A school must be aware and ensure that their teachers and staff follow Title IX requirements and know their rights. This may involve collaborating with a school district’s Title IX coordinator to provide workshops for administrators on laws related to the provision of services to pregnant and parenting students. A grievance procedure must be in place and adhered to by students, parents, and employees.
  • Schools must work with pregnant and parenting students to create a graduation plan tailored to each student’s needs. This may include an academic credit-recovery option for parents who take time off from school or the option for dropouts to return to school.

Although the recommendations focus on secondary schools, the statues apply to all recipients of federal funds, including post-secondary institutions.

Efforts to pass state-level legislation to ensure these and other protections have also been ongoing — the Ensuring Success in Schools Act was first introduced in 2007. This legislation would promote successful school completion for pregnant and parenting students as well as those affected by domestic or sexual violence by:

  • enabling expectant and parenting students as well as student victims of domestic or sexual violence to succeed in school;
  • providing guidance to school districts in responding to and alleviating the barriers to academic success for students who are parents, expectant parents, or survivors of domestic or sexual violence;
  • encouraging the safe and meaningful involvement of parents of students.

A state-designated Ensuring Success in Schools Task Force issued a report in 2010 which made recommendations for accomodating and supporting pregnant and parenting students, but also made recommendations for policies affecting student survivors of domestic and sexual violence. According to the report:

Students who experience dating violence or sexual harassment have a hard time paying attention in school and often participate less in class or do not go to class at all, whether the violence happened on or off school grounds. Testimony at Task Force hearings indicated that student survivors of sexual violence experienced sharp declines in grades following incidence of violence. Witnesses told stories of schools that refused to respect orders of protection, denied reasonable accommodations requested by the survivor, placed the burden of change and compliance on the survivor and not the perpetrator, forced the survivor to repeat her story several times and in front of other people, denied the survivor basic confidentiality, and punished the survivor for minor offenses related to the violence while overlooking the acts of violence committed by the perpetrator. Students who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence want to stay in school and graduate, but fear for their safety and well-being often forces them into involuntary homeschooling or alternative programs or forces them to drop out entirely.

In response, the authors suggested that schools:

  • waive minimum attendance requirements for students who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence and recognize absences as valid if they are due to safety concerns, to having received victim services, or to recovering from physical or psychological injuries;
  • allow students to make up missed work and provide appropriate academic supports, including the option of homebound instruction;
  • allow in-school accommodations—including changing classes, lockers, lunch hours, or any other appropriate safety measures—as necessary to facilitate school attendance and participation;
  • honor any order of protection and civil no-contact order;
  • allow student survivors of violence to transfer to another school without penalty for reasons of safety and well-being; and
  • place the burden of compliance on the perpetrator whenever possible.