CM: Terra Centre: The Potential and Promise of Young Parents
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By Amanda Labonte and Jenna Robinson
Karen Mottershead is the Executive Director of the Terra Centre, a non-profit organization that helps pregnant and parenting teens with a broad range of supports to be successful parents. She discussed some of the work that Terra Centre does and emphasized the importance of housing with us. The Terra Centre can impact the lives of both the parent and child – sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways. Mottershead shared how some alumni talk about ‘coming home’ – seeing Terra Centre as a place of safety and security even after they leave. There is a lot of pride and a sense of accomplishment for many of the young adults who graduate, in some cases they are the first members of their family to graduate high school.
Historically the focus for Terra Centre has been educational attainment by helping moms primarily with completing their high school education. (1) Today, Terra Centre has grown and offers far more resources and support, providing evidence that they understand how various challenges can and do intersect. Mottershead explained how the benefit and value of finishing school are immense but require a lot of support and resources and that becomes especially challenging when a person does not have housing and even more challenging when a young person becomes a parent. The immediacy of housing intersects with educational attainment for youth.
When working with young adults, it is important to remember that developmentally, they live in the present and often do not plan long term. This can lead to school not being deemed a high priority. She explained that it is important for youth to have immediate housing access because when they are ready to return to school, they can register immediately and not have to worry about where they are going to live. Terra Centre has a very deep understanding of the stage of development that young parents are at, and can offer a meaningful level of support to meet the unique needs, and understand what kinds of approaches work best to support young families.
Terra Centre uses wrap-around supports, when a young adult receives housing, they also get a support worker. When a student enters the Braemar school, a school just for parenting teens, Terra Centre has ensured that there are multiple services at the school to meet their needs. This includes an onsite daycare, immunization nurses that come in, support workers and more.
There are complicated challenges for youth trying to obtain housing, particularly if a young adult is under the age of 18. Barriers for youth include legal aspects of signing off on lease agreements, getting utilities hooked up, and negative perceptions of young people by landlords. There continues to be a community stigma around young people being irresponsible, having wild parties or that they are ‘going to trash the place.’
Mottershead stated this has not been the experience of Terra Centre staff working with young people, and instead is quite the opposite; these parents care deeply and want stability for their children, much like the rest of the population. Terra Centre staff spend a substantial amount of time around advocacy working to acquire housing that is safe, stable and in a positive community.
Many young parents have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives. They see personal and emotional safety as a primary need that is very difficult to acquire. Many of the young people grew up living in subsidized housing, communities that exist in poverty, low-income housing, and experienced unsafe living environments. When young parents become pregnant, they want a different experience for their child.
One partnership in particular is crucial to what Terra Centre does. The Brentwood Partnership Housing Program “helps families build skills, resiliency and complete their education in a safe, stable and affordable environment. As the families move through the phases of our program they transition from needing help to a place of self-sufficiency. It’s our goal to see them model those skills to the children they are raising helping us to break the poverty cycle for 2 generations in one program.” (2) There are about 27 families currently living at the housing complex, with many staying there for over two years, and this can be their forever home because they do not have to leave at any given time.
As we discussed the stigma and community perceptions of young people who have children and how this creates challenges and barriers, Mottershead stated that the stigma for young dads is often deeper than young moms. There are societal perceptions that young dads are ‘dead beat dads, don’t want to be involved, or walked away from their child(ren).’ Young dads are an important part of the story, and they have an important role to play in the life of their children. The role of Terra Centre is to help support parental relationships for the benefit of the child, even if the parents are no longer in a partnered relationship. Terra Centre has a unique approach in that they have outreach workers who work specifically with young dads. (1)
Karen Mottershead shared a photovoice research project undertaken by Terra Centre through the Successful Famililes Housing Program. During the project, every week families had a different theme, they would take pictures and explain how that picture related to the theme. Karen shared a story of how one week the theme was safety and one of the participants submitted a picture of a door.
The comment from the parent was that this is the first time they could shut a door and feel safe. It was fundamental to have a door.
Community sensitivity is needed to reduce the negative perceptions young parents experience because parenting at any age is hard. Unhelpful and hurtful comments and gestures by the public to young parents are painful and negatively impacts their sense of self in terms of their capacity, who they are, and how they’ll move forward in life. Parents are doing the best they can and a gentle word would be nice and acknowledge the youth is a parent, and everyone is trying to do their best job. Young people want to feel validated in their roles and these small gestures of support could make such a difference.
Mottershead expressed her hope that members in the community would start seeing the potential and promise of young parents as opposed to seeing a negative or deficit. That can be done through kind words, supporting Terra Centre, or different organizations.
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Note: This is an excerpt from our September 2022 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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Amanda Labonte is ESPC Project coordinator for research services and capacity building, as well as ESPC volunteer coordinator.
Jenna Robinson was the Research Assistant with ESPC in the summer of 2022 and has since moved to Calgary to complete her Master of Arts in Sociology at the University of Calgary. Her research interests include criminalized and victimized women, intersectionality, and anti-racism.
- Terra Centre Centre. (n.d.). What is Terra Centre? https://Terra Centrecentre.ca/what-is-Terra Centre/
- Brentwood Community Development Group. (2022). Program information. https://brentwoodgroup.ca/about/program-information/