In 1993, at a time when roughly 50 out of its 700 high school students were pregnant, school leaders at the Washington, D.C., Columbia Heights Education Campus decided to open an on-site day care center to keep teen mothers on track to graduate, EdSurge reports. Now, just five of the 44 available day care slots are filled by children of students, and the school's pregnancy rate is below the national average.
Funding for the project was difficult to gain at first due to concerns that free day care for students' children might incentivize others to become pregnant, but the school requires those using the facility to maintain a 2.5 GPA, attend parenting classes, and prevent future pregnancies while in school. The school also partners with community organizations to connect teen mothers with outside supports.
While the day care center accounts for some of the dramatic decline in teen pregnancies, the school also initiated a pregnancy prevention program in 1995, and the teen pregnancy rate has declined overall nationwide over the past two decades. However, the school's program has seen unusual success, with roughly 95% of teen moms graduating and the day care center now self-sustaining.
Teen pregnancy not only has a dramatic impact on the lives of students: It also impacts chronic absenteeism rates and graduation rates at schools, and it costs taxpayers an average of $16,000 per child for the first year alone. Preventing teen pregnancy is still the first line of defense, and schools can help do so through sex education programs, which vary from state to state. They can also help educate parents about ways to address sex education in the home. These programs and other factors, such as the ease in availability of contraceptive products, have helped decrease U.S. teen pregnancy rates in recent years.
However, teen pregnancies still occur and are a major concern. The rate tends to be higher in low-income areas and in some geographical areas, primarily in the South. This requires district leaders to have strategies in place to help students stay on track in the event this does happen. Some schools are using online instruction to help teens dealing with pregnancy and new parenthood. But teen moms still need extra support, resources, parenting education and encouragement if they are to cross the finish line to graduation and find a way to make a better life for themselves and their child.
Child care centers in schools can be a logical dropout prevention solution, especially in schools with higher-than-average teen pregnancy rates. These facilities allow a teen parent to stay involved with their child during the school day and offer a convenient solution to childcare dilemmas. They also serve as a visible — and often auditory — reminder to all students of the results of irresponsible sexual behavior.
These facilities can additionally help schools offer an extra benefit to teachers and staff with young children, serving as a recruitment and retention incentive. And they can be incorporated into career training opportunities for high school students.
However, they do have some disadvantages. Some community members view child care centers as a mixed message for students that can encourage teen pregnancy. Similar concerns were voiced over the TV show “16 and Pregnant,” though some researchers claim the show reduced the pregnancy rate as students were faced with the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior. The cost to open a facility can also be expensive, though it can become self-sustaining in the right circumstances.
As schools and districts look for ways to impact graduation rates and offer teen mothers and their children a better chance at a successful life, child care centers may be an option to consider.