She was determined that she and her son would not be another statistic.
Statistics paint a grim picture of teen parenthood. Only 51% of teen moms have a high school diploma. A mere 2% of teen moms get a college degree by age 30. And two-thirds of children born to unmarried teen mothers live in poverty.
Ana Juarez, 20, has seen those statistics play out in the Pilsen community in Chicago where she grew up. But Ana is determined that she and her 9-month-old son Maximo will not be another statistic. And she’s confident she’s on the right path thanks to the home visiting program at Pilsen Wellness Center, one of a network of 31 programs in Illinois overseen by the Ounce of Prevention Fund.
“The program taught us that even though you have a baby and are young, you can make a better life for yourself,” Ana says. “This program is leading me in the right direction.”
In the Ounce’s home visiting programs, coaches regularly visit teen parents to provide them with child-development information. By modeling appropriate parenting practices, home visitors help young, inexperienced parents nurture the healthy development of their children. In the long run, that benefits society as well as the children. Research shows that home visiting programs increase children’s literacy and high school graduation rates and decrease rates of child abuse and neglect.
Ana joined the home visiting program at Pilsen Wellness Center soon after she and her boyfriend of two years found out she was pregnant. “I was going to be young mother and I figured I would need all the help I could get,” Ana says.
Ana first worked with a doula, a home visitor who specializes in preparing a mother for a healthy labor and delivery. After Maximo was born, home visitor Irma began to teach Ana how to care for and interact with him.
“She taught me that I should read to him, because then he’ll want to read when he’s older,” Ana says. “She taught me how to stimulate his brain by talking constantly and giving him different things to play with.”
Ana and Maximo will remain in the home visiting program until Maximo is 4. Irma will continue to teach Ana about Maximo’s development and help her navigate any parenting challenges she encounters.
Ana is currently taking a full load of classes at Morton College. She’s working on an associate’s degree in applied science and hopes to eventually get her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Ana counts herself lucky that her mother and Maximo’s father can help care for her son, which enables her to go to school. Balancing parenting and school is difficult, but she knows her education is essential for their future.
“I want the best for Maximo,” Ana says. “I’m his role model, so I have to set my standards high. If I don’t go to school, his standards wouldn’t be as high as they should be.”