Having a calling and passion to reach men through the pregnancy center has driven me to find every opportunity to share the importance of this outreach. As I talk with directors of many centers, I find an alarming reality — services for teenage men are not a high priority. Centers are often focused on fundraising, medical services, or just simply surviving due to the economy. While all of these areas are priorities, another very vital priority has been left out — services for teenage men.
One sample research in California showed that out of 300 centers, only 8 percent of them have any services specifically for men.i Many center websites reveal that they have some services for men, but it is like adding a little salt to the menu, not one of the main entrees!
Pregnancy centers need to reach the whole family. Since men have something to do with pregnancy, we cannot go along with culture, the court system, and pregnancy centers that merely look at men as those who get girls in trouble, but rather as people who need help. Men have unanswered questions about sexuality, pregnancy, and parenting. We need to reach these young men and give them some answers. While it has been reported that 85 percent of women who terminate their pregnancies do so because of coercion from the male partner or a parent, other studies reveal that teen fathers who are given support want to father, and be good fathers.ii This research supports the need for programs for men in our pregnancy centers, especially teen men that make up the largest percentage of fathers who visit our clinics. When these young teen dads find compassionate men who will help them with their crisis of an unexpected pregnancy, many of them will want to step up to the plate, be a supporter of his partner, and take responsibility as the father.
In "The Misunderstood Fathers," Jo Ciavaglia wrote,
Little teen pregnancy research has involved teen fathers. Prevention education focuses on girls, not boys. Few support services focus on teen fathers' needs, and life circumstances leave most unequipped to deal with the responsibility of parenthood.
More than 1 million American males between 15 and 19 years old had a child in 2002, according to the most recent available national statistics, but the number represents less than 2 percent of teen boys. Men 20 and older, according to studies, father most babies born to teen moms.
Teen dads, as a whole, are a misunderstood group, said psychologist Mark Kiselica, a Newtown Township resident who has studied and worked with teen fathers for 30 years.
Studies show that less than one-third of teen fathers fit the stereotype as irresponsible and unwilling to help raise his child, said Kiselica, author of When Boys Become Parents: Adolescent Fatherhood in America.
Rather the opposite appears true. Some 70 percent of single, teen fathers are described as being in long-term romantic relationships before the baby is born, Kiselica said. They attend prenatal doctor visits and the birth, and also provide financial support and maintain regular contact throughout at least the first year after the birth. iii
Another study provided this information:
One study through the Bank Street College of Education in New York City offered counseling and other services to about 400 teen fathers in eight cities. After two years, 82 percent said they had daily contact with their kids, nearly three-fourths contributed financial support, and 90 percent still had a relationship with the mother.iv
It behooves us to do all that we can to reach these teen dads who will become responsible dads given the needed support of their community. It seems the pregnancy center movement has its work cut out for it, reaching these young men.
While fundraising is important in these tough economic times, and medical services are a necessary tool in serving this hurting population, we need to begin planning and implementing services for teenage men too.
Dr. David Whitaker is CEO and Executive Director of Pregnancy Choices Clinic in Union City, California. He has joined Sydna Massé at Ramah International through workshops providing information to pregnancy centers regarding the need for ministry to men and teen fathers.
i Research sample of California Pregnancy Center Websites conducted by Dr. David Whitaker, CEO of Pregnancy Choices Clinic, 33523 Western Ave., Union City, CA 94587 510-487-4357
ii Jo Ciavaglia, "The Misunderstood Fathers," article.
iv Kevin Simpson, "Teen Dads Are Often Cropped Out of the Family," Denver Post, September 21, 2008.
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, David Whitaker