Program educates teen dads on being active parents
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2012
10/14/12 at 7:44 AM
Read more about the Tulsa World’s continuing coverage of teen pregnancy and prevention.
Katy Bradshaw was at Planned Parenthood to get on birth control when she found out she was pregnant.
She and her boyfriend, both 15 then, had gotten serious and were seeking reliable contraception.
After finding out about the baby, she told her boyfriend, Luke Gehri, first.
"Adoption and abortion are not in my vocabulary, so it looks like we're going to be parents," she said.
Oklahoma ranks No. 5 nationally in the teen pregnancy rate and No. 2 among 18- to 19-year-olds.
Traditionally, efforts have been made to support the mother and child, but little outreach has been made to teen dads.
Gehri said he jumped into the idea of fatherhood.
"I was happy about it," he said. "It's a child. How can you not be happy about that? She's precious."
The couple, now 16 and engaged, are enrolled at the Union alternative school and meet regularly with a parent educator from Oklahoma Parents as Teachers.
Gehri maintains a residence with his mother but spends most of his free time with his 4-month-old daughter, Abigail, and Bradshaw, who lives at her father's apartment.
He has a 4.0 grade-point average and plans to attend college for a medical degree.
Gehri and Bradshaw describe their upbringings as somewhat chaotic, attending many different schools and clashing with parents.
After becoming pregnant, the two settled with Bradshaw's father, Mike Bradshaw, who helps support them with the parent educator.
"It's a work in progress with them," Mike Bradshaw said. "It's been difficult, but we are all working toward the same thing, which is taking care of the baby."
At first, Mike Bradshaw had to deal with ill feelings toward Gehri. But the grandfather now backs the couple's plan to remain together.
"I think a lot of teen pregnancies come out of the conquest for boys," he said. "It's like they have a scorecard and pregnancy is a side issue ... And parents will scare off the boy and think they'll take care of the baby, instead of getting him involved."
At first, the friends of the couple were excited, but most have drifted away.
"Our lives have changed," Gehri said. "When you have a kid, you don't have time for a social life. Sometimes, that's for the best. I have something more important to take care of. I don't mind changing diapers or giving a bottle. It's what you do."
The couple works on communication, once splitting up over a disagreement on a parenting issue.
"I love her with all my heart, and I love my baby," Gehri said. "I feel like we've gotten closer."
The Oklahoma Parents as Teachers program has been drawing in teen fathers to educate them on being an active parent.
Parent educator Debbie Price said Gehri and Bradshaw are the rare situation.
"Not many teen parents have this type of support at home, and this is a couple still together and parenting together," she said. "They are facing a lot of challenges but are smart kids."
Gehri works as a night manager two to three times a week at a sandwich shop and has applied for a job at a chain restaurant.
"I want to provide for Abigail, even if that means taking two jobs to do it," he said.
They receive about nine cans of formula a month from the federal Women, Infants and Children program and a subsidy for child care from DHS.
The first things Gehri buys with his paycheck, which is about $108 for three days of work, are diapers and more formula.
Regardless of whether the couple stays together, Gehri will be responsible financially.
Child-support enforcement by the state is triggered when a single mother applies for welfare benefits, including food stamps, child-care subsidies or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
For teen fathers, state law contains provisions to encourage the completion of high school, said Jeff Wagner, spokesman for the child-support enforcement division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Those provisions include calculating support at a lower rate and considering extracurricular activities.
"While a teen, the obligation is lower to give them the best chance for success," Wagner said. "The best way for a parent to succeed, regardless of owing child support or receiving child support, is to get an education and learn the life skills necessary to be the best parent they can be."
Those special allowances end when a teen parent graduates high school and hits 18.
"Once a person is no longer a minor, they get called in for a modification to adjust the child support to what an adult pays," Wagner said. "When you have a child, child support is a very real obligation. Once you owe it, it doesn't go away on its own."
Last year, DHS opened 944 cases to fathers who were 17 or younger at the birth of their first child, Wagner said.
Of those, 122 fathers were 15 or younger.
In addition, 1,526 cases were opened for men age 19 when the first child was born, and 1,012 cases were for first-time fathers at age 18.
A judge approves child-support orders, which are calculated using several factors. The primary considerations are the income of both parents and the custody agreement.
It is not unusual for child support to cost half of a person's paycheck. And if support is not paid, interest of 10 percent accrues on the unpaid amount.
And for fathers of multiple babies, there is no break.
"More children does mean more obligation," Wagner said. "Children are not cheaper by the dozen. A child-support order does not go down because of having more kids."
Importance of education
A few groups are making efforts to educate teen dads on their responsibilities.
"I see them as parents, not students," said Price, the parent educator. "I feel that empowers and helps them."
Oklahoma Parents as Teachers focuses on attachment to a child through home visits, support groups and developmental screenings for the baby.
"I teach them not to feel bad about their situation and move forward, enjoy being a parent and teach your child," Price said. "Teen dads say they don't want their child being a teen parent. So, I say, read to them, give financial support and fill that social and emotional need that children have."
A support group for young fathers is part of the Hope Pregnancy Center, which is under the umbrella of the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, said spokeswoman Rebekah Jost.
The nonprofit pairs an experienced father with a teen father for weekly sessions.
"There is something about a man having a one-on-one session with a young dad that makes a difference," Jost said. "Having one pregnancy out of wedlock dramatically increases the chances for having others. Counseling helps them get off that road."
Jost said many teen dads start out not involved in the pregnancy and have no interest in parenting.
"We want them to be aware of the whole situation," Jost said. "It's about getting them connected and seeing this is their responsibility, not just the mother's. We are here for the mother and father, and our goal is to get both totally engaged."
Gehri and Bradshaw say they want to have three more children but are waiting until after college.
"We want to make sure to have a job, house and can support them financially," Gehri said.
Importance of positive male influence
Source: Research studies compiled by the Parents as Teachers organization
- Boys with nurturing fathers are likely to grow up self-confident, academically successful, generous and compassionate.
- Girls with respectful and nurturing fathers tend to relate to boys and men well during their teen and adult years.
- Boys are especially likely to be readers if their fathers read to them.
- Children with attachments to both parents are more likely to form successful adult relationships.
- Infants cope better with strangers when their fathers have been one of the primary caregivers.
Effects of negative male influence
During the past 15 years, various studies indicate a higher likelihood of poor life outcomes for children without a male figure:
Source: Compiled by the National Center for Fathering at tulsaworld.com/nationalfathers
- Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor.
- Almost 75 percent of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they turn 11 years old. Only 20 percent of children in two-parent families will do the same.
- Children growing up in single-parent households are at a significantly increased risk for drug abuse as teenagers.
- Children who live apart from their fathers are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes as teenagers.
- Children who lived with only one parent had lower grade-point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records and higher drop-out rates than students who lived with both parents.
- Teen girls in homes without fathers are significantly more likely to engage in premarital sex.
- Children in single-parent families are more likely to get pregnant as teenagers.
Youth Risk Behavioral Survey
|Proportion of high school students who have ever had sex
Sexually experienced by grade
Sexually experienced by gender
|Sex before age 13
|Four or more sexual partners
|High school students who used drugs/alcohol before most recent sex
Source: Community Service Council of Tulsa, from 2007 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report
Original Print Headline: Education for teen dads
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Four-month-old Abigail Gehri plays with a toy during a developmental checkup with her father, Luke Gehri, and mother, Katy Bradshaw, at Union alternative school last week. The 16-year-olds meet regularly with a parent educator from Oklahoma Parent as Teachers. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Luke Gehri, 16, gives his 4-month-old daughter, Abigail, a kiss during a developmental checkup at Union alternative school last week. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World