Former Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson discusses the Scottish Parliament’s teenage pregnancy enquiry with young mums from Citadel Youth Centre who submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament to inform the PPYP strategy.
In March the Scottish Government published its strategy on ‘Pregnancy, Parenthood and Young People’. This is a welcome addition: preventing pregnancy at an early age and supporting young parents can make improvements to children and young people’s health in Scotland.
Dona Milne, Deputy Director of Public Health, NHS Lothian talks us through the recent publication of the Scottish Government’s Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy.
The most welcome part of this strategy is the focus on the social determinants of health. We know that unintended pregnancy in young people is largely due to the effects of deprivation, a lack of connectedness with education, few prospects of meaningful employment and a lack of (interpersonal) skills to negotiate sexual relationships based on mutual respect. A pregnancy at an early age can lead to poor outcomes for the young woman and her baby, sometimes creating a cycle of deprivation that can continue for generations.
We have, of course, seen significant reductions in what is traditionally called ‘teenage pregnancy’. Today sees the release of the annual teenage pregnancy statistics. The most recent information is for conceptions in 2014. In Scotland, teenage pregnancy rates continued to decline in all age groups in 2014. The teenage pregnancy rate for under 20s has decreased from 57.7 in 2007 to 34.1 per 1,000 women in 2014, a decrease of more than 40%.
However, a closer look at the numbers shows a strong link between deprivation and teenage parenthood. Young women under the age of 20 living in the most deprived areas in Scotland are 5 times more likely to experience a pregnancy than their counterparts living in the least deprived areas.
For some young people, parenthood at a young age is very much a planned and positive experience. For others, a couple more years, a wee bit more life experience and dealing with all that parenthood throws at them might be better.
The Scottish Government ‘Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People’ Strategy reflects on the impact of pregnancy at a young age and what we need to do in Scotland to reduce the negative effect on young people and their families.
It talks about how we can prevent early pregnancy by increasing attendance at school, ensuring continued opportunities for education and training, having good sex and relationships education and accessible young people’s services. The strategy sets out how we can support young women who do get pregnant and continue with that pregnancy by helping them to stay in education, providing a key worker and good services for young parents. It makes a clear commitment to reduce the cycle of deprivation created by early pregnancy and parenthood.
The strategy also reflects on the need to reduce the stigma faced by young parents (especially young women) and it challenges the way in which young women are judged for what is perceived (wrongly) as a lifestyle choice. My experience of working with young parents is that they are doing their best for themselves and their children despite some very difficult living circumstances.
We need to trust and support our young people to continue to do the best they can. We need children and young people to feel welcome and included – in school and in their local community. They need to experience the benefit of positive relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers, health visitors, school nurses and others who can support them to participate fully to realise their ambitions.
This is the first Scottish strategy which focuses on pregnancy and parenthood in young people and it needs to be implemented. It will need a concerted and coordinated effort from all of us and I am pleased to say that we are very much up for that challenge.
Dona Milne: @donamilne
The Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy can be found here
The most recent teenage pregnancy statistics can be found here