Judith Cork leads the work of Romsey Mill’s Young Parents Programme (YPP) to support young mums and young dads, which recognises that each has different challenges to face in this new chapter of their lives.

Take a moment and imagine a young mum.

What does she look like?
What is she wearing?
Where is she?
What is she doing today?

Here, Judith asks “Why do we think about young mums in the way we do?”

" 'Teenage parenthood' didn’t exist as a phrase until the 1960s. (1)

Up until then, as long as a woman was married, society was not worried about whether she had a baby, regardless of her age.
While many claimed that the issue of having babies outside of marriage was a moral one, there was also a strong concern that unmarried women had no one to support them financially.

Then, when the contraceptive pill became available in the 1960s, numbers of unplanned pregnancies began to reduce and (because they could) more people chose not to get married.

These societal shifts are thought to have contributed to the rise of concern about teenage mothers, who were still considered a threat to society.

These ideas continued to exist, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that government attention peaked. As a result of their publications, depictions of young mothers shifted from (moral) deviance to vulnerability and dependence. (2)

Either way young mothers were (and still often are) seen as deficient, be it morally, or with regard to support or knowledge.

The research cited by the government then, and in subsequent policies, shows poor outcomes and attributes those outcomes to the age of the parents.

Other research has indicated that often those outcomes can be seen as the result of other complicating factors in the parents’ lives (3), and it wouldn’t have mattered if they had become parents at 17, 27 or 37.

Media attention, particularly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, provided sensationalist headlines about shocking rates of teenage pregnancy and examples of the most extreme cases.

Government policy and media portrayals from this time have been criticised for failing to give voice to young parents themselves or recognise their abilities and agency.

I would suggest that these stigmatising attitudes continue to impact views which are common in our society now, but through Romsey Mill’s Young Parents Programme we want to show how amazing young mums are, and how many of them evidence the inaccuracy of these stereotypical views."

To read a young mum's perspective on this, read Franceska's story.

(1) Arney, W. R., & Bergen, B. J. (1984).
(2) Arai, L. (2009).
(3) Weed, K., Farris, J. R., & Nicholson, J. S. (2016)