Teenage childbearing has a myriad of consequences to both parent and child.
"We have seen young parents go on and be remarkably successful. We have also seen young parents who haven't," said Chautauqua Family Court Judge Judith Claire.
According to Claire, many of the issues she sees in court from young parents are the same that older parents face - custody, visitation, domestic violence, child support, paternity, child neglect, child abuse, termination of parental rights, foster care, adoption, grandparents rights and more. However, teenagers may also face other issues.
"They may have housing issues, because they are teenagers. They may not have their own residences. They may have - not everyone - but they may have a level of immaturity. Not because they are immature, but simply because they are teenagers. In other words, they are not adults yet themselves, either developmentally or legally."
"You can't expect a 16-year-old to have the same level of maturity as a 26-year-old," Claire continued. "Therefore, they may have difficulty sorting through the situation they are in, making good decisions for themselves, identifying resources, trying to decide what to do when they find themselves in this situation, dealing with financial issues, educational issues, legal issues, food, shelter, how they are going to care for their child once the child is born."
Financial issues are very real for teenage mothers. According to a 2008 study by the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, compared to mothers just ten years older, teen mothers are almost three times as likely to require some sort of public assistance. The average annual cost associated with a child born to a mother that is 17 or younger in New York is $6,094. And, 52 percent of all mothers on public assistance had their first child as a teenager.
Additionally, the survey said that almost half of homeless heads of household in shelters were teenage mothers. One third were homeless before the age of 18, and 42 percent had been homeless more than once.
"There is a lot of scientific knowledge being made available over the past few years that teenagers' brains are not fully developed. Your brain does not stop fully developing until you are in your early 20s. Some of them may not have the personal capability of making a decision. The majority don't have good decision-making skills regardless of brain development. They have not been taught good decision-making skills," Claire said.
Stress can effect a teenage mother and her children physically, mentally and emotionally. According to the Schuyler Center survey, as many as 48 percent of teenage mothers experience depressive symptoms, as compared to 13 percent of adult mothers. And, depressive symptoms in teens following birth increase the risk of subsequent pregnancy.
"You often find that young parents are just overwhelmed at the birth of the child. They love their child and wouldn't want to deliberately hurt them, but do in a moment of despair, because they do not have the coping skills to deal with the situation they find themselves in," Claire said.
The adult decisions and responsibilities are what Judy Gustafson, TEAM program director, calls the over-arching problem for teenage mothers.
"They are suddenly faced with adult decisions and responsibilities, when they are still young and don't have the experience with making those kinds of decisions and taking care of those responsibilities. So, they have to grow up really fast. And, as they are growing up really fast and facing these kinds of responsibilities, they kind of lose a part of their childhood, too, because it's difficult for them to be teenagers in the same sense that they were before, carefree, coming and going as they please, hanging out with their friends, attending school events, those kinds of things," Gustafson said.
On top of this, teenage mothers face difficulties with continuing their education. Of teenage mothers, 5 percent complete at least two years of college by the age of 30. Additionally, less than 2 percent obtain a college degree.
"Anyone who knows what it's like to be a parent of a young child knows that it is a 24/7 proposition, and at the same time, you are trying to go to school and do homework, and keep your grades up and pass exams, while at the same time you are a full-time mom. Several of our students also have part-time jobs, in addition to school and being a full-time parent. So, just juggling everything, and having the energy and the ability and the means to do everything that they need to do, I think, is very difficult," Gustafson said.
The challenges that teenage mothers face on a daily basis take an effect on both them and their children. According to Claire, many of the parents that she sees on a daily basis are working to better their lives. The teenagers believe that they are being good parents, but at times may be lacking the necessary skills to fulfill the lives of their children.
Studies show, however, that children of teenage mothers are 50 percent more likely than children of older parents to repeat a grade. They are also less likely to complete high school, and have lower performance rates on standardized tests.
"(Teenagers) would like to have the skills, to be a good parent. Who wouldn't? Most of them want to be devoted parents," Claire said.