Over 300,000 babies are born to teen parents each year in the United States. Although the teen pregnancy rate has dropped in recent years, it still remains higher in the U.S. than in other western industrialized nations. The CDC estimates that only 50% of teen mothers will graduate from high school; their children are also less likely to graduate. Further, teen parents are statistically more likely to be unemployed or incarcerated.
Teen parents are an important population to work with because of those risk factors. Encouraging mothers to focus on their education helps them and their children. Heather Novotny, who helped organize the event, says “there is the powerful opportunity to impact two generations at once. We want to support them both as teens and as parents.”
On May 30, Salt Lake County Library Services partnered with the Granite School District Young Parents program for a “Teen Parent Picnic” to serve this at-risk population. About 30 young parents and their families came to the library to sign up for library cards, participate in storytimes, have snacks, and learn about the library. Each young family took home free children’s books and other materials donated by the library and the Assistance League of Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake County Library has partnered with Young Parents since late 2012, providing books and early literacy materials for the Young Parents program. Both sides wanted to expand the partnership. Nikki Gregerson, a librarian with Granite School District, wanted to encourage mothers to sign up for library cards. She knew that many teen moms did not have library cards, and several had never visited a public library. They were unaware of library resources available to them.
Salt Lake County Library Services and the Granite School District developed the Teen Parent picnic in response to this need. The goals of the event were to:
- Make the teens feel welcome and special in the library
- Sign the teens up for library cards
- Help the young families become aware of library resources
- Have them participate in a storytime and learn early literacy skills they can use at home
At the picnic, the young parents were greeted with goodie bags containing nursery rhymes, some toys, and information about the library. They were all invited to select several new books to take home. Snacks were served, and the families and children were entertained by two storytimes. David Bird, a librarian with Salt Lake County, gave his storytime in Spanish. He spoke about his role as a parent, and introduced early literacy practices based on Every Child Ready to Read.
The families were able to chat with the librarians in a relaxed environment, and get answers to their questions about the library. Pictures were taken around the room with photo props. Several mothers signed up for a library cards, and one mother looked into job resources.
Both partners felt the event was successful. Susan Jeppesen, a youth services librarian with Salt Lake County, said she was “thrilled at how excited the girls were about coming to the library and helping their children…I felt like we made some important ties to a group in the community we hadn’t really reached.”
Nikki Gregerson said that her “favorite part of the event was that the young parents got to see that it is okay (and encouraged) to be silly with their child. By demonstrating ways to sing, read, play, speak, and write, the parents were able to see ways in which they could develop those skills with their children at home.”
Carrie, Nikki, Heather, and Susan plan to continue reaching out to teen parents in the future. “We want to support these parents in their goal to raise successful children by offering them access to tools and resources” said Novotny, “and we also want to promote the lifelong habit of library use.”
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the Senior Librarian for Teen Services at Salt Lake County Library. She is known for her work with special and overlooked populations including young patrons with autism, refugees, and incarcerated youth.