The voices of expectant and parenting youths are being amplified by the first-ever Michigan Young Parent Advisory Council.
Diamond Weakley is among the 13 teens on the council, which is based in Saginaw. She said the group is reducing the stigma and isolation she's experienced as a young parent.
"A lot of families don't support youths having children before graduating. So it makes us feel better about becoming young parents and keeping our kids instead of listening to everybody about how hard parenting may be," Weakley said.
Council Facilitator Robert Clark, a case manager at Saginaw Intermediate School District, said one of their first projects was to raise awareness about the lack of spaces where parents can change a baby's diaper in women's and men's public restrooms.
"So their next objective is to let these companies know why it's important to have a baby changing station in their restaurant or facility," Clark said.
The program is supported by the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health
through funding from the National Institute for Reproductive Health. Council members are compensated for their time and efforts, including child care during meetings.
Clark said it's important to support and empower young parents as they work toward their goals, and to ensure they feel respected.
"And let them know it's OK to ask for help and they are heard when they do need anything," he said. "Because they are young parents, they feel like a lot of older adults talk down at them instead of talking with them on their level."
Teen mothers and fathers are at higher risk of dropping out of school and living in poverty, and have higher incidences of repeat births. Weakley agreed being a young parent is hard, but said her daughter is worth it.
"When I look at her and I see her smile, it just makes me want to live better," Weakley said. "Honestly, without my daughter, I don't think I would have graduated high school. I try to do everything that I want to see her do in her future so that she can say, 'Well, my mom did it, so I can do it.'"
Research shows when young parents are supported, they are better able to finish high school, pursue higher-level education and find employment.
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