[ printer-friendly version
helped Tiesha Hughes, pictured here with her son Ju’Quon, the
challenges of teen motherhood.
up, Tiesha Hughes watched her mother—who’d had her first
child at 14—struggle to raise five kids. Tiesha wanted a better
life for herself, and when her mother and siblings moved to Alabama,
then-12-year-old Tiesha stayed in Boston, won honors at her parochial
junior high school and attended boarding school on a scholarship.
But when she got pregnant at 16, the school told her she had to
With nowhere to turn, Tiesha felt hopeless. A few days after giving
birth to a son she named Ju’Quon, she enrolled in Children’s
Young Parents Program (YPP), which provides comprehensive healthcare,
counseling, education and advocacy for teen parents. Soon, things
began to change for Tiesha.
“YPP took care of us,” says Tiesha. “The doctors,
nurses and social workers guided me through Ju’Quon’s
chronic asthma and ear infections and my own health issues. Their
counseling was so important—I felt free to talk things through,
ask for advice or just cry. By pointing me in the right direction,
they opened my mind to resources and possibilities. As a teen parent
you want responsibility, but you need adult help, too.”
Began in 1980
Includes physicians, nurses and social workers
Provides health care, counseling, education and support to
Runs 12-week parenting groups
Since the YPP started in 1980, it has recognized that a young mother
must flourish physically, mentally and socially for her child to
More than just health care
In the program’s 12-week parenting groups, mothers learn about
baby care, bonding and child development, and also focus on their
own issues of mental health, relationships and substance abuse.
“We know these groups have worked,” says Joanne
Cox, MD, medical director of Children’s Primary
Care Center (formerly known as Pediatric
Health Associates), the primary care clinic where YPP is located.
“Evaluations show that the girls improve significantly in
areas associated with preventing child abuse, including stress reduction,
better care-taking abilities and greater empathy toward their babies.”
While YPP is primarily for young mothers, the clinic runs a related
program for young fathers, as well.
“One of the nice things for our girls is that the get a lot
of attention here,” says YPP social worker Jennifer
Valenzuela, LCSW. “They can call us directly and
talk to someone they know. They can page us if they suddenly realize
they need immunizations by the next day. They couldn’t get
that in a typical primary care setting.”
Growing up fast
As the girls mature, the staff gradually gives them more responsibility.
“When you think about how young these girls are, they are
still relying on their own parents to make their doctor’s
appointments,” says YPP nurse Amy Lynch, RN, CPNP.
“So instead of telling a very young mom, ‘Come back
in two weeks,’ we may hand them a calendar and a pen and walk
them through every step they need to take.”
YPP staff are also expert at navigating the maze of challenges
facing disadvantaged young mothers, such as finding temporary shelter,
transportation, day care and youth services and even negotiating
bill payment plans with utility companies. Their command of these
skills and resources has earned national recognition.
Today, Tiesha is 23 years old and works as an executive assistant
at the Boston charter school where 5-year-old Ju’Quon is a
buoyant, soccer-playing kindergartner. Having completed college,
Tiesha is pursuing a master’s degree at Harvard’s Graduate
School of Education. Her goal? To work with teen parents.
“It’s my calling,” she says. “Most teen
moms leave school and have a hard time going back. I know I can
help them with their education, goals and options.”—KK
This article was published, in a slightly different form, by
Hospital Trust in The Spirit of Giving.
for Young Women's Health
Etc, a Web site by teens for teens
Massachusetts Alliance on