Teen parents struggle with housing discrimination and isolation, study finds

Stereotypes about teen parents prevent them from finding secure housing and isolate them from the community supports they need to thrive, a new Edmonton study suggests. 

'Programs like this ... help to lift teen parents out of the cycle of disadvantage'

Teen parents have the same goals for their children as older parents, but face additional barriers in terms of stigma, researchers say. (Jeremie86HUN/Shutterstock)

Stereotypes about teen parents prevent them from finding secure housing and isolate them from the community supports they need to thrive, a new Edmonton study suggests. 

But a unique, made-in-Edmonton housing program for pregnant teens, teen moms and their children is proving that a little extra support — including counselling and parenting classes — can help break the cycle of poverty.

"We are discovering that it's the social and economic disparities that exist before they become pregnant that often contribute to the struggles they face afterwards," said study co-author Melissa Tremblay, now an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta.

"We showed that programs like this — that combine affordable housing with social supports — help to lift teen parents out of the cycle of disadvantage." 

The four-year research project, done as part of Tremblay's PhD dissertation, tracked the development of the Successful Families Program, which was created through a partnership between the Terra Centre and Brentwood Community Development Group in Edmonton.

"Teen parents really value the structure provided through the program and that their relationships with support staff, and with each other, were very important in building a sense of community and setting them up for success," Tremblay said. 

'It takes a lot of courage'

The program is designed to help teen parents find long-term housing and also provides counselling on parenting, budgeting and building supportive relationships. 

Tremblay's research included regular questionnaires and conversations with program clients. 

Many of the comments they shared shed light on the financial and emotional struggles of young parents, ranging from the long-term stress of having to plan for an adult life during nine months of pregnancy to the day-to-day dilemma of juggling school, a job and raising a child. 

"It takes a lot of courage to be a young, single mom," wrote one study participant.

'Stigma and stereotyping'

Housing in an area where unfavorable stereotypes about teen moms left them vulnerable to being homeless or forced to live in precarious situations, Tremblay said.

There is a lack of supportive housing programs designed for teen parents living on their own and very few rental properties that will accept underage tenants.

"On top of the regular barriers that are faced by many people when they are looking for safe, secure, affordable housing, teen parents often face barriers related to stigma and stereotyping," she said. 

"Often landlords are hesitant to accept teen parents as tenants because they're not sure if they're responsible. Some landlords would ask them things like, 'Did you get kicked out of your group home?'"

On Tuesday, Tremblay won a prestigious national award for the study, which showed how such programs can dispel unfair assumptions and make a difference in the lives of teen parents.

Tremblay, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, has earned a Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Indigenous award for her "significant achievement in research and development innovation" during their Mitacs-funded research. 

Tremblay hopes the recognition will help promote the program model. She would like to see it become a blueprint for supportive housing projects across the country. 

Tremblay said there has been little research on teen parents and a lack of understanding around their needs. They are, however, especially resilient, and have the same powerful aspirations for their children as older parents do.

Those strengths, she said, should be recognized. 

"This is important to me because my own parents were teen parents," Tremblay said. 

"I think they faced a lot of challenges and barriers related to stigma and stereotypes and having adequate resources but we know that with the proper supports, teen parents can not only succeed, but also thrive along with their children.

"I just think it's really important to recognize and build on their strengths the way that this program is doing."