Straight Talking is a charity set up to help and advise pregnant teenagers. But the classes, which are run by student parents, mainly cover topics such as abortion and why, as a teenager, you shouldn’t get pregnant. Student Parents spoke to Hilary Pannack, who set up the programme in 1997. We wanted to know why she thought students shouldn’t be parents.
Why did you choose to start the Straight Talking programme?
I was working with young parents in a residential setting and in small support groups and was approached by a teacher from a Catholic School who wanted to put something on in her school to present the realities of parenthood. I came up with some ideas and she offered to pay me to design and deliver a programme. I realised it was a unique idea and set up a charity to raise funds to deliver the programme in more schools.
How does Straight Talking work?
The sessions are very interactive with youth friendly materials but of course, discussion arises all the time. We try to keep the sessions as informal as possible as it is led by peer educators and not teachers.
What do the teenagers who run the class think of the programme?
The teenagers have a strong input into the programme and are constantly redesigning parts of it. It comes from them so they are totally on board with the content.
How has having children changed their lives and why did they choose to get involved in the programme?
Having children at an early age almost always results in dependence on the State for housing, income and support, which means that most are stuck in a cycle of poverty. They don’t have qualifications or work experience and can’t afford childcare which means that until their children are independent, they find it almost impossible to move on. Most student parents are on their own. It is currently financially more viable to live as a single parent – something we are campaigning about. They are robbed of their childhood and most of their peers are moving on in another direction. There are a number of health related statistics that show that teenage mothers are more at risk of several health related issues.
Does Straight Talking ever find there are members of the class you teach who want to have children while studying, or in most cases are student pregnancy’s unplanned?
There are of course, young girls in the classroom who want to have a baby and they believe all sorts of myths, which we address during the programme. There is a big difference between teenage pregnancy and teenage parenthood. Mostly, pregnancy is unplanned and ends in abortion. Parenthood is planned as a career choice and is a result of low self-esteem and low sense of achievement.
Do you think the Straight Talking classes have made a difference in the schools it has visited?
We know from our research that our work makes a significant difference to young people’s perception of early parenthood and when run alongside good Relationships and Sex Education and Sexual Health Services, can help to bring down the teenage pregnancy rates.
What advice would Straight Talking offer to students that: a) are planning to have children, b) pregnant or c) already have children?
a) It’s not a good idea to have a baby young as you are likely to be a single parent and living in poverty. You won’t be able to do all the things that your friends will be doing. It’s far better to wait a few years.
b) Think about your options carefully and get good advice about pregnancy and the alternatives.
c) If you are near one of our local schemes, come to work for Straight Talking!
What do you thing of Hilary’s comments? Do you think what she says is fair, and students with children end up living in poverty? Would you, as a student parent, now advise others against it? Do you think its right that these programmes encourage young students to ‘consider the alternatives’ when they fall pregnant?
Student Parent’s would be really interested to hear your views so contact us, or leave a reply here.