When Mary Fischer became a teenaged mom last year, everything changed.
She lost friends, she faced eyes of judgement at every corner she turned, she had to switch schools from Chilliwack secondary to the Ed Centre for childcare.
“I get a lot of dirty looks,” says Fischer, who has since returned to CSS. “Teachers look at you funny, students talk behind your back,” or worse, they outright call her degrading names.
“When I bring my daughter to school, they say things like, ‘Why is she bringing her baby to school? She’s promoting teen pregnancy.’”
The judgement hurts.
Fischer didn’t dream of becoming a teen mom, and while she wishes she would have waited, she has no regrets.
“I love [my daughter] to death,” she says.
Next week, when the Young Parent Program, formerly housed out of the Education Centre and Chilliwack Community Services, moves into the Neighbourhood Learning Centre (NLC), which is located inside CSS, the hope is that those judgements and hardships will soon dissipate.
“If you talk to any of my clients, they’ll tell you how much they love their children, but I don’t think any of them would say this is the best thing that’s happened to them,” says Ashley Giampa, youth parent support worker.
“I don’t think any of my teen moms are promoting teen pregnancy; they just want to go to school.”
And the Young Parent Program is there to help them.
The Young Parent Program is a service, under the umbrella of Chilliwack Community Services, that provides necessary supports to teen parents, including connecting them with a medical team, counseling, prenatal classes, vitamins, life skills, food and milk vouchers, exchanges for baby clothes and gear, and more.
For years it’s had offices at both Chilliwack Community Services and the Education Centre. A daycare was also provided inside a converted classroom at the Ed Centre, in partnership with the YMCA daycare, at no cost to the parents.
But when YMCA ended the partnership last year, due to financial reasons, and the in-school daycare closed at the end of June, Giampa heavily pushed for the Young Parent Program to be moved over to the NLC.
“It was a no-brainer,” she says.
The Neighbourhood Learning Centre is also home to Fraser Valley Distance Education, Family Place, Better Beginnings, as well as offices for United Way, YMCA, Ministry of Children and Family Development and Xyolhemeylh Child and Family Services – all potential supports for young parents.
In addition, Chilliwack Community Services recently opened Learning Together Childcare Centre, a community daycare, that has spots specifically for young parents.
“The daycare is licensed for young parents,” says Giampa. ‘’And because it’s attached to the school, the [teen parents] won’t have to pay any of the top up – it will be fully funded for them.”
(Government subsidizes daycare costs for teen parents, as long as the daycare is properly licensed, and attached to a school.)
“We’re not saying don’t go to the Ed Centre if that’s the best fit for you,” says Giampa.
A young parent teacher will still be situated at the Ed Centre for parenting support.
“But we just see the program moving over to the NLC as being really beneficial for our young parents,” says Giampa. “Just having all those supports for them in one place.”
Currently the program has 35 teen parents throughout Chilliwack.
Giampa hopes that by being situated in CSS, which has had high pregnancy rates over the years, she’ll be able to reach young parents sooner and get them the supports they need sooner.
She also hopes to soon be able to offer pregnancy tests right out of her office, and more life skill programs.
“I’m super excited about starting up more programs for the young parents,” says Giampa. “I’d like to do more workout classes, yoga, programs that build confidence, and life knowledge, and get them socializing more, making sure they’re not isolated, and making sure they have all their needs met.”
For Mary Fischer, the program has been a lifesaver.
On a cool, grey morning, just inside the doors of the NLC, Fischer holds her daughter Eden, who is just shy of a year. She laughs. She coos. She dreams.
Last week, Fischer, just 17 and a teen mom, graduated from school – early.
“As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I needed to grow up,” she says.
“This program has helped me so much; it’s connected me with the community.”
The Young Parent Program officially moves into the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Feb. 3.