A helping hand for young parents

Ottawa’s Young Parent Support Network offers a cornucopia of resources to help pregnant youth and young parents stay healthy and on track, writes Samantha Ball.

community-profile-spring2016“It feels like home,” says 22-year-old Stephanie. “I never had a place before where I could open up.”

The young mom of one is referring to St. Mary’s Home, an Ottawa-based social service agency and part of the Young Parent Support Network.

St. Mary’s supports young parents and their children through its residential program — the only licensed residence in Eastern Ontario where young moms-to-be can live during their pregnancy and the first few months after baby’s birth — and Young Parent Outreach Centre.

Despite a difficult childhood, Stephanie graduated from high school and college. But at 21, and newly pregnant, she discovered her partner was drinking heavily and into drugs.

She issued an ultimatum, and the relationship ended.

Compounding things, her employer didn’t approve of the pregnancy, and her workplace turned stressful. She felt forced to stop working, leaving her struggling financially with no family support.

Stephanie turned to St. Mary’s in November 2014 and says: “they’ve helped me so much. I felt like I had nowhere to go. I am so happy now.”

In early 2015, she entered the residential program and by May of that year, Stephanie was living independently with her son.

Registered nurse Cathryn Fortier, director of programs at St. Mary’s, has worked with the Young Parents Support Network for nearly 19 years. It was created in 1993 to “expand and enhance programming for high-risk pregnant teens and parenting youth.”

Their mission is to provide accessible services and advocacy for pregnant youth, young parents and their children, to support their efforts to live in a healthy family and community.

The network is a partnership of four Ottawa agencies: Emily Murphy Non-Profit Housing Corporation, St. Mary’s Home, Salvation Army Bethany Hope Centre, and Youville Centre.

These agencies provide a variety of services to address the needs of young parents and their children (from birth to five years), including shelter, education, food, health, parenting skills, independent living skills, counselling and social support.

There’s a shelter for pregnant and homeless youth, a school with an on-site licensed daycare, a supportive housing co-op and two young parent program and resource centres.

The agencies operate independently, but jointly manage two projects partially funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada — Brighter Futures for Children of Young Parents and Buns in the Oven. Fortier is project manager for both.

“We work with many community partners who offer programs at one or more of the agencies,” she says. They include Ottawa Public Health, The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Catholic School Board, The Sexual Assault Support Centre, Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services and The Ottawa Food Bank.

Meanwhile, Stephanie says she loves St. Mary’s parent outreach centre and takes advantage of its many valuable programs, which include prenatal classes, a prenatal and postnatal nutrition program, parenting programs, parent and child playgroups, a well-baby drop-in, personal development and a program for dads. There’s also counselling, a food bank and several health clinics.

A new addition is Little Milk Miracles, a peer breastfeeding support program in which youth who have successfully breastfed are trained as peer leaders, a role Stephanie has taken on.

She feels the need to give back, as her experience with St. Mary’s Home has left her with increased confidence.

She says she feels like a good mom, which Fortier says is the ultimate goal.

“Many young parents find themselves parenting alone and facing many challenges. There is a lot to learn.

“The agencies in the YPSN provide wraparound services where young parents will not feel judged, and are provided with the tools to succeed.”