Last Tuesday evening, it was encouraging to see lots of signs being waved about by delegates to this year's Republican National Convention that read, "We Support Unwed Mothers!"
Such a sentiment expresses great promise!
Rather than shunning the unwed mother, especially the teenage mom, the idea that as a society we might stand with these children who are now having children is most encouraging.
Most notably, it begins to press the values of a "pro-life" value proposition out beyond the womb.
What do young women about to become mothers need to be successful?
A father who owns up to his responsibility to support his child and the child' mother can make all the difference in the world. Of course, such support often is not forthcoming.
A family that knows how to love children through difficulty and missteps, providing the support required, is certainly beneficial. But, when families face the challenges associated with extreme poverty, the practical, material, ongoing support that they can realistically provide is often very limited.
No doubt, the signs we saw at last week's political convention appeared, at least in part, because of the revelation about the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Fortunately, Bristol Palin appears to be surrounded by the kind of support that she needs.
But, what about the millions of other young women who find themselves in a very similar situation, but without the kind of support they need?
The signs seemed to call us to action! What will "support" mean for young women, especially in urban communities of poverty? How can we support them?
Here are a few suggestions based on my experience in inner city Dallas over the past almost 15 years:
1. Provide a clear pathway for these young mothers to continue and complete their education and career training. Most public high schools have developed such programs. Young mothers need to be encouraged to stay in school.
2. Provide access to affordable child care so that school and meaningful work will be a real possibility. Add in Head Start and other early childhood education options.
3. Provide access to quality and affordable pre- and post-natal medical care, counsel and parenting education. A number of states have had great results with visiting nurses and family home nursing programs funded with Medicaid dollars that pay great returns in the form of wonderful family outcomes and great reductions in costs to communities via the early investments in mothers and children. The problems assoicated with low birth weight infants can be avoided.
4. Provide access to fit, decent, affordable housing, so that mothers and children can experience safety and security along with the stability of having a home.
5. Provide legal counsel and direction to ensure that child support options are clearly understood and pursued. It takes two people to produce a child. It should involve two in the child rearing and support.
6. Provide access to nutrition resources so that the child will move through the early stages of human development successfully and on pace to health and productivity.
7. Provide access to early childhood education to ensure that the child enjoys exposure to experiential education. Children who develop a love for reading and learning will be set on a pathway to better lives.
8. Provide ongoing parent education to equip young mothers in the fine art of nurturing, disciplining and supporting their children.
How do we get these sorts of things done as a community?
It will take a multi-faceted effort.
It should involve us all.
Churches and other faith communities and organizations should band together to help out. Public agencies will need to be involved, as will public institutions such as schools, hospital systems and governments.
It won't be easy.
That said, actually carrying through with the promise back of the sentiment--"We Support Unwed Mothers"--could change our nation for the better over the next generation.
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