years ago, Laura Corwell was a pregnant 17-year-old high school
student who was not sure where to turn for help. Today, Corwell
works in customer service at Franklin Covey and has a six-year-old
daughter, Brooque, who receives regular health care—thanks
in large part to the Teen Mother and Child Program at the University
of Utah School of Medicine.
“I didn’t have insurance, and I didn’t know
what to do,” Corwell says. “They talked to me about
all my options, set up doctor appointments, and helped me to get
more motivated and to graduate so I could get a better job to
support me and my daughter.”
Without the encouragement and services she received
from the Teen Mother and Child Program, Corwell still might not
have her high school diploma. “I was eight months pregnant
when I graduated [from Granger High], but I wanted to walk down
that line,” Corwell says. “It was something I had
wanted to do all my life, and [the program] helped me reach that
Offering 24-hour on-call medical service and clinics
for people like Corwell and her daughter, the program serves about
1,200 pregnant and parenting adolescents and their children.
Although the average age of its participating mothers
is 16 1/2, the program has served pregnant girls as young as 12,
according to Harriett Gesteland BS’85 MS’88, a pediatric
nurse practitioner who has worked with the program for 13 years.
Many patients live at or below the poverty level, and half no
longer live with their parents. Midwives deliver about 200 babies
Mothers age 18 or younger are referred by many
sources, including high school counselors, the Division of Child
and Family Services, physicians, the Division of Youth Corrections,
Planned Parenthood of Utah, Baby Your Baby, friends, and relatives,
and are served until they turn 20. The program cares for children
until they turn five—or longer, as in Corwell’s case.
“Brooque has some disabilities, and they
know her history, so I haven’t wanted to take her to another
pediatrician,” Corwell says. “I’m 24 and Brooque
is 6, and I’ve told them, ‘You guys can’t get
rid of me’—not that they’ve tried.
“They’re always there for me and my
daughter, even now. If I call them up, they’ll answer any
questions I have,” she adds. “They’re like my
second family. I just love them to death.”
Founded in 1980 by Arthur Elster, the Teen Mother
and Child Program is the only multidisciplinary program offering
services to pregnant and parenting adolescents and their families
in the Intermountain West. The program has been directed by Kathleen
McElligott since 1987. She and Mark Pfitzner MPHE’97 train
residents in the program and provide on-call service for the adolescents.
Midwives from the College of Nursing deliver babies (unless there
are complications), social workers offer psychological help and
encouragement to finish school, and registered dietician Barbara
Eleison provides nutritional counseling. A pediatric nurse practitioner
handles acute and postnatal care, and a licensed practical nurse
specializes in lactation. The program also has a financial counselor
and a secretarial staff.
The Teen Mother and Child Program interfaces with
community agencies, including Catholic Community Services, LDS
Social Services, and Valley Mental Health. Funding comes from
government and private sources, including the Department of Pediatrics
at the University Health Sciences Center, the Division of Child
and Family Services, and the United Way.
generous donations, the program is able to run on an annual budget
of about $581,000 with a staff of 12. “We are able to provide
medication for the uninsured, thermometers, humidifiers, donated
blankets and clothing, scholarship funds, and on-site access to
food vouchers provided by Women Infants and Children (WIC),”
The program’s wide-ranging care is evident—a
social worker helps a young woman decide how to tell her family
she is pregnant, a nurse explains the significance of an abnormal
fetal ultrasound to a 15-year-old in foster care, a baby cries
after getting his immunizations, and a nutritionist teaches a
16-year-old the importance of a balanced diet.
Research, including studies conducted by the Teen
Mother and Child Program, indicates that adolescent parents who
receive services through comprehensive care programs, rather than
just medical care, are more likely to be in school or working,
receive fewer entitlements through public assistance, achieve
a higher child immunization rate, obtain a greater understanding
of child development, and lower the risks of child abuse.
“We offer a unique kind of one-stop shopping,”
Gesteland says. “With our multifaceted services, we are
helping adolescents adjust to their new roles as parents. The
rewards are wonderful.” When Brandy Romero got pregnant
at age 18, a friend recommended the Teen Mother and Child Program
to her. Romero has since recommended it to other friends.
“They got me on WIC and Medicaid, and that
was so helpful when I didn’t know who to turn to,”
Romero says. “They’re so nice. The nurses tell me
to call them all the time when I have questions, and I do.”
Romero, who is now 23, has three boys—twins
who are almost five and a baby just a few months old. She works
at the day-care center her sons attend.
Back when the program was founded, it helped with
20-30 deliveries a year, Gesteland says. The number is higher
now, not because there are more teenage pregnancies, but because
the program has grown and is better known. A more centrally located
clinic would be convenient for patients, but lack of money, facilities,
and staff has prevented that so far. But being at the U has definite
advantages. “It’s nice up here,” Gesteland says.
“We have any kind of medical assistance on call at all times.”
The program also serves as a clinical teaching
site for medical residents, social workers, nutritionists, nurse
practitioners, and nursing students. Patients enrolled in the
program also are enrolled in research projects exploring such
issues as how medical care benefits the youngest mothers.
“[Teen pregnancy] is a complex issue, and
there is not a simple solution,” Gesteland says. “But
we believe in these young mothers and their potential for success.”
—Anne-Marie Wright is the author of A
Bundle of Choices: The Option Overload of LDS Mothers Today
and a frequent contributor to Continuum.