Student Parenting and Family Services’ (SPFS) mission is to help teenage parents remain in school and achieve academically and to support the emotional, cognitive, social and physical development of members of adolescent families. SPFS works to accomplish this mission by achieving the following goals:
SPFS was conceived in 1992 by a group of law students, health care providers and educators to respond to the high dropout rate among teen parents in New Haven. After two years of planning and fundraising SPFS was incorporated in 1994 as a nonprofit organization. The New Haven Public Schools donated an unused metal shop classroom at Wilbur Cross High School and in 1995 SPFS finished the renovation of the room and began operating an expanding program of services for teenage parents and their children.
For the past 20 years SPFS has operated the Celotto Child Care Center at Wilbur Cross High, providing child care, parent education, academic advising and family support services to 32 teenage parents who attend high schools in New Haven and their 32 children, annually.
Five conceptual pillars that underlie SPFS’s programs are:
1. Relationship-based programming. SPFS’s staff take the time to develop trusting relationships with children and youth.
2. Continuity of care. The programs are designed to ensure continuity of care for both the children of teenage parents and the teenage parents. SPFS has very low staff turnover.
3. Cultural competence. All of SPFS’s staff are culturally competent. Staff receive annual training to enhance their cultural competencies.
4. Holistic services. A young family’s every identified need is either addressed within SPFS or by connecting the young family to other community services.
5. High expectations. SPFS expects that teen parents will finish high school, achieve academically and become self-supporting in the future.
SPFS’s program has been presented at the national Healthy Teen Network conference, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and numerous local conferences. The program has also been featured in the New York Times and in journals of the early childhood and health care professions.
SPFS’s top accomplishments in 2014 were the following:
1. 98% of teenage parents served graduated from or continued in high school (did not drop out). This figure represents incredible accomplishment for the students, as many were struggling with the challenges of poverty, homelessness and family dysfunction, in addition to managing the challenges of raising a child while in high school. Nationwide, only 38% of teen mothers do not drop out of high school. 10 seniors graduated high school in June, 2014. 9 of the 10 had been accepted to college or a vocational program at the time of their graduation.
2. 100% of the young children served were up-to-date with immunizations and well-child visits.
3. 96% of the young children achieved developmental milestones; one child who appeared to need early intervention services to address a developmental delay was referred to Birth to Three.
4. 98% of teenage parents served did not have a second child while they were in high school. Nationwide, studies have found that only 75% of teen mothers do not have a second child within two years of giving birth.
1. To secure sufficient funding to maintain the program’s essential services.
2. To develop an effective method of following-up with program graduates to gather information about their successes and challenges after graduation from high school and provide counseling and information to help alumni address post-high school challenges, including completing college coursework, securing college financial aid, locating employment and identifying a quality early childhood or pre-k program.
1. Funding to fill a gap created by the elimination of a state grant that had funded SPFS’s outreach program.
2. Volunteer Board members with time to actively work on the organization’s marketing and fund raising.
3. A volunteer web designer to update SPFS’s website.
4. A volunteer graphic designer able to assist SPFS in designing its annual report and summer newsletter.
5. Contributions to enable SPFS to finish updating the equipment and supplies in its fourth and final room, with new cribs, chairs, toys and books.
Student Parenting and Family Services is the only program in the state that provides teen parents with support, parenting education and quality child care in an accredited child care program inside a high school.
Without our Celotto Child Care Center, the infants and toddlers we care for might left with rotating babysitters who provide minimal stimulation and opportunities for development. At the Celotto Center, the children are nurtured all day by caring teachers. One of the things that is unusual about our program is our grouping of children across age groups. While many child care programs have an infant room and a separate toddler room, we group our children in “family groupings” which allow older toddlers to “help” nurture younger children, and enable younger children to learn from older children. We believe this grouping encourages the development of language, social and emotional skills, and empathy. This grouping also allows children to remain in the same group with the same teachers during all the years of their enrollment in the program. All children need consistent caregivers, and for our high risk children, continuity of care is especially important. The “family grouping” structure requires teachers who are skilled and flexible, and we have worked hard to attract and retain high quality teachers. National estimates of turnover in child care settings are between 25% and 40% annually. Our annual teacher turnover rate over the past five years is 8%.
Another special aspect of our program is the way our small office, which serves as an administration/counseling/tutoring office, is full of constant, hopeful activity. I see our therapist connecting with a teen parent for the start of a therapy session; a teacher helping a teen parent learn about introducing nutritious foods to her toddler; our education specialist meeting with a teen parent about college applications; and a teen and her aunt working out family disagreements to create a more peaceful home. Our staff are willing to do whatever it takes to help launch our teen parents and their babies and toddlers, and their dedication shows in the achievements of our young families.
I have had the good fortune to be working with Student Parenting and Family Services’ program since its inception close to 20 years ago. I have watched, over these many years, the amazing work that our director, teachers and staff have done for the care and well being of not only the children involved in our child care center but for the teen parents and their extended families as well. Our Board members support the college attendance of our teen parent program graduates by raising scholarship money; during our scholarship interviews with teen parents preparing to graduate from the program, the teens talk about how important the program is in allowing them to further their own educations and how they have higher hopes for their children than they would have imagined when they first became pregnant. As a Board member, I can give support to the program to help it maintain its mission and remain a viable option for teen parents and their children.
We are challenged, in these difficult economic times, to secure enough funding to maintain our programs. Our budget is lean, and there is little to cut; the vast majority of our expenses are people: our therapist, early childhood teachers and education specialist and outreach worker who are so critical to the educational and social successes of the teen parents in our program. Our Board and staff are working to better publicize our fantastic outcomes and increase giving to the program. Many studies have shown that it makes good economic sense to improve teenage parents’ parenting skills and high school graduation rates, but I also find it personally gratifying to watch young parents, whom were at such high risk of dropping out of school, get their diplomas and celebrate with their children.
100% of children will be up-to-date with immunizations and well-child visits.
§ Over a five year period, 99% of teenage parents using the Center continued in or graduated from high school, compared with less than 50% of teenage parents who do not have access to special interventions;
§ Teenage parents enrolled in the Center had parent-child interactions that were significantly better than those of teenage parents nationwide;
§ Teenage parents experienced lower levels of parenting stress; and
§ Over a five year period, 99% of infants and toddlers in the Center were up-to-date with immunizations and well child visits, compared to 75% of two year-olds nationwide.
SPFS’s Academic Advising program provides teenage parents with academic supports, including class selection, credit tracking and homework help. The program also provides intensive support for seniors including career exploration, planning for employment and postsecondary education, college visits, and college and financial aid applications. The program provides students with volunteer opportunities that allow students to fulfill their community service requirement for graduation and New Haven Promise, and encourages school attendance through an Attendance Club, where students who attend school a designated number of days each month are rewarded with breakfast and a small gift.
SPFS has a strong partnership with New Haven Public Schools, which provides the program’s participants with transportation to and from the program every day. Administrators and teachers from New Haven middle and high schools work with the Project to identify teen parents in need of services and to respond to academic needs. SPFS also works closely with other community organizations providing services to teens and families with low incomes:- The Fair Haven Community Health Center provides health consultation to Student Parenting staff and health care to students who attend Wilbur Cross High School. The Health Center also engages in collaborative case management with Student Parenting’s case manager when students consent to the sharing of information.
- The Department of Children and Families (DCF) refers teen parents to Student Parenting’s programs; Student Parenting collaborates with DCF to serve teenage parents who have open DCF cases, providing services, helping teen parents access community services and advising DCF about the specific needs of teen parents who are DCF-involved.
- SPFS has developed a strong partnership with Gateway Community College, where a designated contact person has been a tremendous help with the teenage parents’ transition to college.
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