UCAN launched the Teen Parenting Services Network (TPSN) in 1998 in response to a growing need to support young parents in DCFS care. TPSN works exclusively with pregnant and parenting youth and their families statewide who are in DCFS care. The goal is to identify and treat the serious effects of trauma while enhancing the parenting capacity of youth through clinical counseling, educational coaching, leadership training, new birth assessments and doula assistance.
Within TPSN is the smaller yet equally as impactful Partners in Parenting (PIP), which works with youth and their children from birth to 21 years old.
“TPSN fills a lot of holes like the education liaison, parenting coaches and therapy,” explains Pauline Barlow, Director of PIP. “The PIP team members are that one-on-one daily mentor for them. It’s role modeling behaviors with them and walking them through systems, like applying for jobs or medical appointments as young parents.”
The one-on-one dynamic creates a strong bond of trust that fosters a safe space for youth as they learn and grow with their mentor. The openness allows for youth to ask honest questions as they navigate the unique situation of being a young parent while in care.
“Our team works with our youth very intensely. Most of our youth are not in the best placements; they work with our youth to make sure, first and foremost, where they are is safe and appropriate,” says Pauline. “They go that extra mile to make sure they have workforce training, to make sure they are enrolled in the right school programs, making sure they are connected to services they will need beyond the age of 21.”
Pauline calls the team miracle workers. “My dynamic team is out there every day. We are a statewide program so we are all over the place. We are talking about some of the hardest situations to work with. There’s a lot of domestic violence and mental health issues. But I’m amazed by this team each and every day.”
Domestic violence cases are often the hardest to navigate. “It’s difficult,” says Pauline. “One that comes to mind, they are parenting together and the father is financially abusive. You can’t make them leave. But what we could do is empower her. For example, he didn’t want the child to go to daycare because he thought they would have to pay for daycare, and we explained, no, and just helping her find her voice with that. It’s just that daily support; you can do this on your own. And now she just got an apartment (for) just her and her child. He finally acknowledged that he did have a problem.”
In those cases, though the partner is not a youth in care of DCFS, the PIP mentor will point them in the direction of important resources. If the partner is physically abusive, the youth’s and child’s safety is the first priority for the PIP mentor.
Because one-on-one relationships are the norm, the PIP mentor wears hats from part caseworker to part parenting coach to part therapist. Therefore, it’s important for PIP mentor caseloads to remain small. The team tries to keep it at no more than eight so each team member can focus on their youth’s needs while also maintaining their own. The mental and emotional wellness of the team is always a priority when doing such intense work so the team has “community days” out of the office to explore a resource like a program or a museum. They also participate in quarterly fun events with the youth and the kids.
“I would really like to see the stigma behind teen parents end,” says Pauline. “It’s important to not saddle these kids with that stigma; it doesn’t end your life. They could still go to law school, they could still be that doctor. It just might take them longer, so helping the families and the people who work with them is important, and helping the youth not take on that stigma themselves.
“If the stigma could end, and for people stop thinking this person just ended their life… that would be my goal.”