The New York Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Rights Project (RRP) today released a report calling on New York City lawmakers to maintain and expand support services for pregnant and parenting teens in the city’s public schools.

The report, Protecting Two Generations: The Need to Preserve and Expand Services for New York City’s Pregnant and Parenting Students, examines the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) policies and practices concerning this highly vulnerable student population since the city’s pregnancy schools closed in spring 2007.

“The city’s thousands of young parents need support to stay in school, but for too long, the DOE has neglected their needs,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “As our local lawmakers consider budget cuts during the current economic downturn, they must ensure that critical services are available for these vulnerable students and their children. Such services protect two generations at once, saving tax dollars by promoting educational achievement and the economic independence that flows from it.”

Protecting Two Generations concludes that the few services currently available for parenting teens are limited in scope, poorly advertised and difficult to access. As a result, a relatively small percentage of these at-risk teens receive support services they need from the DOE. Though studies show a direct link between education and financial independence, drop out rates for teen parents are as high as 70 percent.

The report focuses on the Living for Young Families through Education (LYFE) program, the DOE’s primary support service for parenting teens. The LYFE program, which operates at about 40 sites citywide, provides school-based child care and extends an array of social services and parenting help to teen parents.

Through research, interviews with stakeholders, and analysis of documents obtained by Freedom of Information Law requests, the NYCLU and the Resilience Advocacy Project, a partner in producing the report, concluded that:

  • Though more than 8,500 women 19 and younger give birth each year in New York City, the DOE and its fewer than 40 LYFE centers can serve only 638 infants and toddlers – a small fraction of the affected student population.
  • Information about the LYFE program and other support services for pregnant and parenting students and how to access them is limited and difficult to find. Little to no proactive outreach is done to reach young parents – the DOE could not produce a single flier, poster or letter directed toward student parents when required to do so.
  • LYFE program staff receives no uniform guidance on outreach to students.
  • Bureaucratic barriers, including difficulties in transferring to a school with a LYFE program and child support enforcement policies designed for adults, deter students from enrolling in LYFE.
  • The DOE does not effectively track educational outcomes for pregnant and parenting students, complaints of discrimination or harassment based on pregnancy, or the number of students turned away from LYFE and why.

“Students enrolled in the LYFE program directly link it to their achievement in school and their success as parents,” RRP Director Galen Sherwin said. “Unfortunately, a series of obstacles block students’ access to these vital services. It’s time to clear those hurdles and open this program to the thousands of teen parents who need this support to achieve in the classroom.”

Additionally, the report concludes school staff and administrators have been poorly trained on the rights of pregnant students to remain in school, which results in illegal and inappropriate pressure on some students to drop out. State law guarantees young people up to the age of 21 the right to stay in school.

“We can’t expect school staff and administrators to protect the rights of pregnant and parenting students if they don’t know the extent of those rights,” said Karyn Brownson, director of RRP’s Teen Health Initiative and author of the report. “Proper training would reduce the drop out rate among pregnant and parenting students and ensure those students receive the public education they are entitled to by law.”

The report recommends the following immediate steps to provide pregnant and parenting students the support they need to graduate:

  • Increase and improve existing services available for pregnant and parenting teens, and expand LYFE programs, including increasing the number of LYFE centers.
  • Remove administrative barriers to enrollment, including the child support enforcement requirement.
  • Make principals accountable for compliance with the recently revised Chancellor’s Regulation A-740, and improve training for DOE staff and administrators on the rights of pregnant and parenting students, programs available to pregnant and parenting students, and methods to improve enrollment in those programs.
  • Improve tracking and data collection of (a) demand for services, including LYFE; (b) educational outcomes; and (c) complaints of harassment of or discrimination against pregnant and parenting students.