Schools lack guidelines on teenage mothers
Pregnant teenagers who feel unwelcome at school and leave without completing their education need to be catered for under new guidelines and a national strategy, according to the National Children's Rights Alliance.
Last year, 1,443 children were born to mothers aged 17 and under but there remains no specific rules or guidelines for the treatment of pregnant or parenting teenagers by second level authorities.
Added to this, no national integrated strategy has been developed by the Government.
Consequently, hundreds of teenage mothers struggle to complete their education, while also fulfilling their responsibilities as parents, according to Maria Corbett, deputy chief executive of the alliance.
The task of providing for teenagers at second level will be one of the issues included in a report to be presented to the UN convention in March 2006 by the alliance.
"For many mothers, it can be very difficult to continue in school for practical reasons such as access to childcare and their feeling of being unwelcome," Ms Corbett said. "Some teenagers just don't feel welcome in the school environment and don't receive the support that they need."
The alliance is expected to recommend in its report that schools should employ an ethos which states that all students, regardless of circumstance, are welcome and that the school is inclusive of all persons.
Earlier this year, the Parent Support Programme in Limerick produced guidelines for supporting students who are pregnant and those who are parents within the education system.
The guidelines, which are being reviewed by the Department of Education and Science, address key areas such as responding to a disclosure of student pregnancy and supporting the student during and after pregnancy.
The alliance believes that future guidelines should advise schools on practical areas such as allowing students to be absent if they feel unwell and how mothers who breastfeed can be catered for in the school environment.
Although the alliance recognises that there are projects in existence to support teenage parents run by the voluntary sector, it feels that they do not provide sufficient coverage for the teenage parent population.
Instead, it claims that projects supporting teenage parents need to be fully resourced on a multi-annual basis, childcare funding needs to be made available to all teen parents in education and the social welfare system needs to be re-evaluated to accommodate the needs of teenage parents in education.