Don’t stigmatise our young mums

TEEN parents should be supported, not judged and condemned according to a local group.

Speaking out in response to last week’s Mail report that Levenmouth has one of the highest under 16s pregnancy rates in the UK, Rhona Cunningham, manager of Fife Gingerbread, urged people to examine the reasons behind the figures.

“What about the circumstances of the pregnancy?,” she said.

“Why are so many young girls misguidedly accepting affection – no matter the consequences and however inappropriate?”

Latest statistics show that Fife had the highest teenage pregnancy rates for under 16s in Scotland in 2009, with 10.5 per 1000, but in 2010 that figure in Levenmouth was higher still at 12.3 per 1000.

The national average is approximately seven per 1000.

The figures refer to pregnancies only rather than number of births.

Ms Cunningham said being a teen mum was not an ideal start for mum or baby but with the right support, it need not be the end of the world.

She pointed to the work being done by the Teen Parent Project, delivered by Fife Gingerbread, which was started as a pilot scheme in Levenmouth in 2010 and has since extended to Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes.

“The trick is more to do with supporting the teens and building on their skills and less to do with harping on about mistakes and being judgemental,” Ms Cunningham said.

“Everyone makes mistakes but it takes a strong person to own up and take responsibility for their own actions – even when your whole community is ready to judge and condemn you.”

The Levenmouth project has helped more than 140 teen parents – both mums and dads - at a cost of around £420 per parent per year.

“With the outcomes achieved, this is a fantastic return on investment,” Ms Cunningham added.

The presence of the project and other initiatives about to be launched was an indication of the levels of economic deprivation in the area, she continued, and thisneeded to be improved if teenagers were to have the ambition to succeed.

“There is definite socio-economic deprivation within the Levenmouth area that means there are additional barriers to negotiate. There are fewer employment opportunities; the Diageo expansion can’t expect to mop up the employment void created by the lack of textile and manufacturing industry as well as the demise of retail. Taking the bus to wider horizons (and more opportunities) to places like Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, Dundee and Edinburgh involves at least one, if not two, trips.

“I agree that we need to invest more in sexual health education and help our children avoid the consequences of poor decisions or actions. This relationship work should include parenting and be part of our core curriculum, starting at a very early age.

“Our children are born with dreams and somehow we have managed to extinguish their energy and that is the real reason behind the figures,” she said.