UBC and CIHR/IRSC: Young Parents Study

The Young Parents Study, that includes over 100 young mothers and fathers in British Columbia, documents the experiences of young parents (aged 15-24) with a variety of health, education, and social service programs and policies.  Using interviews and fieldwork at a number of young parent programs in Prince George and Greater Vancouver, the study aims to gather information that can be used to improve services and supports for young parents and their children.  The study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and is led by Dr. Jeannie Shoveller of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. As of June 2016, 133 participants have completed at least one interview since the project began in 2013, involving 76 respondents in Prince George and 57 in Greater Vancouver.  Data collection concluded in Greater Vancouver in April 2016 and will complete in Prince George in Spring 2017.  The findings of the study are grouped under seven headings:

  1. Respecting Young Parents: Young parents regularly experience stereotyped, judgemental responses; like all of us, they would appreciate being treated with respect in their everyday lives.  “In particular, they described their desires to be treated respectfully within the labour and delivery experience – appreciating family members and health care workers who respect their autonomy, privacy and cultural traditions regarding the birthing experience.”
  2. Educational Experiences: School-based young parent programs are a significant support to young parents, who would like to see them expanded so that the courses offered would include university/college admission requirements.  “Introducing such courses within school-based young parent programs could eliminate the need to ‘upgrade’ their skills after completing high school in order to qualify for college or university admissions.”
  3. Fitness and Recreation Services: Subsidized or free recreation programs and fitness classes are greatly appreciated, especially where these can qualify for physical education course credit.  “Participants told us that this programming helps their physical fitness, contributes to stress management, and offers them additional opportunities to gain confidence.”
  4. Food Security: Access and cost of healthy foods, especially organics, is a significant obstacle, especially for parents and children with food allergies.  “They spoke about feeling judged by others because of food choices that they were forced to make (e.g. caned rather than fresh fruit in their children’s school lunches) as ‘healthy’ food choices often cost more.”
  5. Housing: Young parents face discrimination from landlords and often difficulty finding affordable, safe, and well-maintained housing that is close to public transit or other services.  The study notes, “This is a longstanding challenge facing young parents in BC and urgent action is required on this issue.”
  6. Sexual Health Services: The study recommends universal provision of low- or no-cost contraception.  Accessing low-cost contraception and sexual and reproductive health services are significant challenges.  “In particular, participants in Prince George are concerned about the reduction in services provided at the local health unit and expressed discomfort about being referred to the local syringe distribution program as an alternative site for sexual and reproductive health services.”
  7. Transportation: Many young parents reported that “transportation is a major barrier to accessing services, getting to work or school, or completing important daily activities (e.g., grocery shopping)” and is a space where they feel particularly exposed to judgement and comments based on stereotyped thinking.

As part of the study, in April 2016, HELP.  Everyone needs help at some time or another, a collection of voices of young parents in Greater Vancouver, was released, available at here. The publication grew out of a workshop focused on the theme of “help” and the contributors offered their stories and poems to help educate others about what it is like for them as young parents. The Introduction notes, “Young parents know a lot about giving and receiving help.  Many face economic challenges.  Some face challenges finding good and affordable housing and childcare, completing their educations or launching their careers, as well as taking care of their own health while parenting.  Many people want to help young parents and their children, but it isn’t always easy to know the best ways to do so….. These stories and poems have something to teach all of us about help and helping.”