Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Overcoming Geographical Barriers to Meet the Multifaceted Needs of Expectant and Parenting Adolescents in Montana (2014)
Developed in 2010, Healthy Montana Teen Parent Program was designed to improve the educational and health status of expectant and parenting adolescents and their children, with a specific focus on serving American Indian populations. Montana’s teen birth rate for American Indians is 74.2 per 1,000 women aged 15 – 19 compared to the national average of 23.2.<1,2 Because Montana has a population density of 6.8 persons per square mile3 with very limited public transportation, accessing services can be challenging for expectant and parenting teens.
Reaching upwards of 500 teens and young adults across Montana (including several reservations), the goals of this school and community based program are to facilitate self-sufficiency of expectant and parenting adolescents, build their parenting capacity, encourage postsecondary education and preparedness for the workforce, and improve the healthy growth and development of their children. To address these goals, program contractors address educational needs of participants to attain either a GED or high school diploma, and address at least two of the following: case management; referral and linkages to prenatal care and reproductive health services; quality child care; nurturing, parenting, and life skills education; and father involvement and support strategies.
The program has implemented a range of successful retention strategies, including using male facilitators to encourage male involvement, flexibility in communication approaches (e.g., Skype, texting, Facebook), providing on-site child care, and having “veteran” program participants lead group meetings. The program’s Project Coordinator shared that the best retention strategy has been fostering trusting relationships between participants and the adults working with them. One program contractor noted, “We want to be the incentive.”
Healthy Montana Teen Parent Program has already begun to see promising results. Participants’ prenatal care utilization has increased from cohort one to cohort two and the program has successfully secured partnerships with organizations working to achieve similar goals. The program is working with the Montana Office of Public Instruction to help program contractors connect with their local high schools and GED programs so they can increase the program’s reach. The program is also partnering with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies of Montana to provide outreach and training in high need communities on text4Baby, the Period of PURPLE crying, breastfeeding, and the Safe Sleep for Baby Crib Program.
Healthy Montana Teen Parent Coordinator
Involving Young Fathers in the Healthy Montana Teen Parent Program (2013)
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is implementing the Montana Healthy Teen Parents Project to provide support for pregnant and parenting teens in high schools and community service organizations across the state. Through the project, the Department is providing core services for pregnant and parenting teens, which include flexible schooling, case management, parenting and life skills education, and referrals and linkage to prenatal care and quality child care. In particular, this Project is undertaking an initiative to support young fathers. One of the Project’s goals is to increase father involvement, when appropriate, among participants by 10 percent.
Involving young fathers in the lives of their children can have positive effects on children’s well-being. For example, father-child contact is associated with better socio-emotional and academic functioning and children with more involved fathers experienced fewer behavioral problems and scored higher on reading achievement. (Howard, K. S., Burke Lefever, J. E., Borkowski, J.G., & Whitman , T. L. (2006). Fathers’ influence in the lives of children with adolescent mothers. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 468- 476.) Although no data are available to provide a clear picture of the number of adolescent fathers in Montana, it is estimated that nearly one in 10 teen boys between the ages of 12 and 16 will become a teen father before the age of 20.
Several Healthy Teen Parents Projects across the state have hired male social workers experienced in working with at-risk boys, to help address the needs of young fathers. Across the state, approximately 84 young fathers received services during the last grant year. For example, the Flathead City-County Health Department in Kalispell (Flathead) hired a Father Support Specialist whose charge is to support fathers and help them understand their role during pregnancy and the early years of their child’s life. In addition to providing parenting information, the Specialist helps young fathers reflect on their own relationships with their fathers and determine what type of father they would like to be for their own children. The Specialist also works closely with schools and potential employers to help young fathers finish their education and identify employment opportunities.
Based on early results of this initiative, it seems that the Specialist’s relationship with the young fathers is an important component of the overall program. In a newsletter article, one Specialist wrote:
“I was a bit surprised by the response I got from each client. Prior to working with these fathers, I was of the opinion that teenage boys are incapable of such adult responsibilities and given the change would walk away. The image most see when talking about teen pregnancy is that of the teenage girl. The image for me has changed within the first few meetings. These young dads want to be involved and be an active parent in their child’s life. They just need help knowing what this looks like.”
Programs across the state are referring young fathers to support services, such as substance abuse programs, therapy, parenting education, supervised visitation, and adoption services. Some programs are encouraging increased contact when and where appropriate between young fathers and their children by providing calling cards and access to Skype. This opportunity is showing promise; for example, one young couple reported that this service made an important difference in their relationship and in the young father’s relationship with his child. The father was able to connect with his child by using the calling cards and by video chatting to regularly participate in his child’s nightly bedtime routine, through reading stories and singing songs.
Kelly Hart, Healthy Montana Teen Parent Coordinator
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Phone: (406) 329-1537
Content last reviewed on August 11, 2016