Teen pregnancy and parenting can be an extremely stressful time in the life of young people. Support from the community and family; information and education; and personal strength and future goals all help young parents achieve to the best of their abilities. Although many of us appreciate some of the difficulties associated with teen parenting, many are surprised to hear that a young mother is at significant risk for abuse during her pregnancy and early in the life of her new baby. Surveys tell us that about 10% of all teens report some level of teen dating violence. Research about young parents estimate that 20%-30% of all teen mothers, or more, experience violence during this time. The additional stresses associated with teen parenting, financial issues, lack the sleep, emotional upheaval, dependency, and other factors makes this period a time when young women are most vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In fact, some believe that young mothers are one of the most at-risk populations when it comes to intimate partner violence.
With these facts in mind, nursing students from the University of Delaware (UD) provided an important educational program, Safe Dates for Young Mothers, to the students at the three Delaware Adolescent Program, Inc. (DAPI) sites throughout the state. With the support from a grant from the American Association of University Women, I led a team of eight nursing students served as curriculum facilitators for a newly revised curriculum specific to the needs of young mothers. Senior Registered Nursing students participated in a comprehensive training program that led them through the curriculum, explored the experiences of young mothers, and highlighted important elements of safety and community resources. These students then visited the DAPI sites in groups, delivering the curriculum and providing important positive role modeling for DAPI students. In turn, the nursing students gained important skills and learned about themselves and their own relationship styles and areas for improvement.
We recognized, in working with young women throughout the state, that many spoke of violence in their relationships with partners, their families, and others. After searching for a curriculum that was appropriate, and not finding any specific to young mothers, it was decided to adapt an existing program for the unique needs of young women who are pregnant or parenting. Safe Dates is an evidence-based program designed to promote positive relationship skills, reduce gender stereotyping, increase conflict resolution skills, and decrease the incidence of teen dating violence. Focus groups with teen mothers revealed some of the important issues young mothers confront and paved the way for the adaptations in the program to ensure that it spoke to the realities of their lives. The adapted curriculum changed the case studies to include young parents, discussed some of the conflicts and issues unique to parenting, addressed healthy relationships, and altered the exercises to capture possible life events appropriate for young parents. The program was piloted at all three DAPI sites and the young mothers completed pre and post-tests measuring knowledge, attitudes, and reported behaviors related to interpersonal violence. Both the nursing students and the young mothers found the experiences informative, thought-provoking, and fun. By completing role play exercises, discussing emotions and expression of both positive and negative feelings, reading scenarios, and exploring a variety of situations, the groups were able to reflect on their own thoughts and clarify their personal values about violence, relationships, and parenting.
Comparisons of the pre and post-tests showed that participation in the 10 session curriculum was effective in increasing knowledge about and decreasing the incidence of dating violence. Perhaps even more inspiring were the stories the young women told of working out difficulties in non-violent ways, helping friends who were in violent relationships, and young mothers considering the impact of violence on their young children. We hope to continue this program in Delaware and take it to other states to continue its good work. As stated by one young mother “We see a lot about how to fight and to argue…we need to learn how to get along…we need to show our kids the right way to act.” We hope the Safe Dates for Young Mothers Program does just that!