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Helping Kids Raising Kids

Margaret Ellis, DO, MSPH and Emily Ross, MD
May 23, 2017

When we first met Blanca, she was five months pregnant and in a totally unfamiliar place, having just immigrated from Central America. Leaving her entire family behind, she had braved the border crossing in an attempt to make a better life for herself and her unborn child. The victim of gang violence and rape, Blanca had seen and experienced more in her 14 years than we can even imagine.

​In our university-based medical clinic, we see pregnant girls as young as 11. Often, these young patients face some of the same risks their own parents did, and are caught up in a multi-generational cycle of poverty, educational barriers, stress. We had seen instances of limited parenting skills during clinic visits that might be expected when a child is raising a child. Toddlers were berated or spanked out of frustration, for example, or ignored as the parents sat absentmindedly playing on their phones, as teenagers tend to do.

With the goal of helping these kids who are raising children of their own, we partnered with a local community-based organization, Imprints Cares, to create an AAP Community Pediatrics Training Initiative parenting resource and education project. We also joined forces with our community's Feeding America partner, the Second Harvest Food Bank, to incorporate cooking classes into the curriculum and provide crock pots with cook books to the teen parents so they can apply the lessons learned in their homes.

In the mid-1980’s, the vaccine for HIB was released and thirty years later we no longer see this disease. Because of the effectiveness of this vaccine my younger partners only know of HIB meningitis through textbooks (and some of my anecdotes).

This is the recurring story of vaccine preventable diseases.

- See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/We-Can%27t-Let-Our-Guard-Down-Against-Vaccine-Preventable-Diseases.aspx#sthash.196pj2e8.dpuf

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Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Teaching children to use respected online resources is one of our goals as parents and pediatricians. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Minding-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx#sthash.62XYPg9d.dpuf
Y​et, despite our apprehension, our clinical work motivated us to dig deeper, to overcome our hesitations and engage with our community partners and with families as professionals and as caring people.
Yet, despite our apprehension, our clinical work motivated us to dig deeper, to overcome our hesitations and engage with our community partners and with families as professionals and as caring people. - See more at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/aap-voices/Pages/Helping-Kids-Raising-Kids.aspx#sthash.Kw72PBLD.dpuf
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We knew that if we could somehow help these young parents gain tools to deal with the challenges of what amounted to instant adulthood, we could impact their children, too. We did not realize the strengths we, ourselves, would gain.

Neither of us are parents, and in many ways, we felt unqualified to teach the classes—classes on positive parenting, childhood development and stress management, among other topics. Even more intimidating for one of us (Margaret), a non-native Spanish speaker, was volunteering to lead the classes in Spanish in addition to English.  Yet, despite our apprehension, our clinical work motivated us to dig deeper, to overcome our hesitations and engage with our community partners and with families as professionals and as caring people.

Our evening classes are offered quarterly in English and Spanish and are led by one of us, or, in some situations, someone from the community. For example, we have one upcoming class on financial planning and budgeting; as we both cringe at the mention of money, we thought that this class would be better led by someone who enjoys balancing a checkbook.


"These young women are amazing examples of the strength and resilience teenage parents can have."

We also have formed a phenomenal community-based partnership with a local organization called Imprints Cares. That program’s mission is geared towards early childhood development and school readiness, and they have been invaluable in helping us prepare for and orchestrate our classes. In the work they do for the community, the program’s organizers have also been instrumental in helping us identify adolescents, like Elena, who might benefit from our classes.

Elena was only 12 when her son was born. She and her child enrolled in the intensive in-home program that Imprints Cares offers to provide parenting support. One of her requirements to remain in the program was attending group classes. After only one class, however, she refused to go to more. The classes Imprints Cares offered were opened to parents of all ages, and Elena said she felt intimidated by older parents who she considered were much more experienced.

In our class targeted specifically to teen parents, Elena has morphed from a silent observer to an active participant.  She and her son are present at every class. She has expressed much gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to improve her parent-child interactions while bonding with a relatable peer group.

Blanca also continues to thrive in this setting.  She initially attended one of our Spanish classes. She was able to meet a group of adolescents who also preferred to speak Spanish and were currently parenting, allowing her to realize that she was not alone. After the birth of her son, she has continued to attend classes. Every day she works to ensure that she can provide her son with the best life possible in spite of adversity.

Parents, regardless of their age, want what is best for their children.  These young women are amazing examples of the strength and resilience teenage parents can have.

Adolescent parents are a challenging group to work with, and my colleague and I are certainly no experts. We have learned, however, that if you listen; if you aren’t afraid to make mistakes; and if you come with good intentions; then these remarkable individuals are eager to learn. And if we, as pediatricians, will take the time to come alongside, these teens will inevitably teach us as much as we can teach them.

Acknowledgement:  We gratefully acknowledge our community partners from Imprints Cares, including Maria Paz Stockton, Berta Andrade, and Mita Lambe.  Our parenting classes were initially funded by an AAP CPTI grant, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with continued support from an AAP CPTI Carolinas Collaborative grant funded by the Duke Endowment.


​​​Ab​out the ​​Authors

Margaret Ellis, DO, MSPH and Emily Ross, MD, are third-year residents at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and members of the AAP Section on Pediatric Trainees.


 


 




Additional Information
Community Pediatrics Training Initiative   (AAP)