Short stuff: SpotlightConsider this: You’re 13 and pregnant. Tough, right? Now take it one step further: You’re 13, pregnant and a ward of the state so you live with a foster parent rather than your biological family.
For 21 teens participating in the ChildServ Teen Mom program, that’s the reality of their lives. They were already out of their homes and living with a foster parent when they became pregnant, some as young as 11 or 12 years old.
ChildServ, a private social service agency based in Chicago that contracts with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to provide foster care services, has provided a Teen Mom program for more than 20 years. The program is designed to educate, counsel, refer and support foster children with babies of their own.
Over the last two decades, the agency has served hundreds of adolescent moms across Chicago and its suburbs. Currently, there are nearly two dozen girls in the program, ranging in age from 13 to 21, and a need for more foster parents willing to take in these girls and their children.
Karnecia Dingle was just 14 when she gave birth to her son, Jamari Andrew, now 4. When she gave birth to her daughter, Dezyier Andrew, a year ago, she was homeless.
"I didn’t know where to go, how to get Pampers. We were so used to moving from place to place. My son was at the age when he would get connected to people and then we would go to another home. He would say, ‘Mom, where are those other people?’ I didn’t know what to tell him," Dingle says.
She now lives in south suburban Calumet City with Kim Taylor, who has taken additional courses to serve as a foster parent for young mothers. She took the courses after her foster daughter, Ariel Coldweather, now 17, became pregnant last year and delivered a daughter, Heaven Davis, in December.
Coldweather had been in the foster care system for seven years and has lived with Taylor off and on for two years. After she got pregnant, she was removed from Taylor’s home, Coldweather says.
"We have a very good relationship but they said I needed to be removed from the home for lack of supervision. I was an honor roll student, getting A’s and B’s. I was doing really good here," the young mother says.
The time away from Taylor was tough on Coldweather. She says she spent time in a shelter and fell behind in school. Now that she’s back with Taylor, her life is back on track. She has passed her GED, is working at a restaurant and the father of her child is involved with the little girl, says Lakeisha Murtaugh, the teen mom case manager for ChildServ.
Under the Teen Mom program, these young mothers get a variety of specialized services, including parenting classes, referrals to health care providers, public aid benefits and early intervention services, individual and group therapy and child development monitoring.
"A lot of the aid we provide is in the form of counseling," Elizabeth Heneks, vice president of programs for ChildServ, was quoted as saying in a press release. "Many of these teenagers have emotional and behavioral issues that could prevent them from being capable, caring parents to their children."
The agency is hoping to recruit more foster parents willing to provide homes for these girls, she says.
"It requires a special kind of love to take a disadvantaged young mother and child under your wings, watch over them and put them on the right path," Heneks says. "Our resources can only go so far. Without a responsible foster caregiver’s warmth and guidance, these teenagers and their babies face a perilous, uncertain future. But with the right TLC in a healthy, safe environment, they can grow and thrive."
That’s been true for Dingle and Coldweather, according to Murtaugh. Both are on track to further their education, are good mothers to their children and are learning the skills they need for their lives: going to college, getting a good job, moving into an apartment and raising their children as an independent family unit.
For more information on how to become a foster parent for ChildServ, call (773) 867-7323. To learn more about any of ChildServ’s programs, services or facilities, to volunteer or make a donation, call (773) 693-0300 or visit childserv.org.
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