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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 13:49 GMT
Young mothers back childminding plan
Natasha Meek and daughter
Natasha Meek and daughter: Felt trapped
Natasha Meek was 14 when she first became pregnant. She now has a daughter and a son.

In the care of the local authority, she had no family to help and felt trapped on state benefits.

"I feel really frustrated that there was no-one there to say 'Go to school - come on, I'll watch your little girl, I'll take your little boy to nursery, you can go to school, you can go to a tuition group'.

"No-one wanted to help."

So she welcomes the government's experiment - offering teenage mothers free childcare provided they continue in education or training.

Vicki Harre became pregnant at the age of 16 and, as a result, says she could not continue her schooling.

Vicki Harre
Vicki Harre: "Brilliant scheme"
"I managed to finish my GCSEs but I wasn't able to carry on any further than that," she said.

She said the cost of childcare meant that further education was simply not possible.

She also thinks the government's pilot scheme is an excellent idea.

"I think it will give people the opportunity to get out of the rut they're in, maybe ending up in dead-end jobs or on benefits for the rest of their lives - and give them an opportunity to give something back."

Robert Whelan
Robert Whelan: Sceptical
Not everyone sees it that way.

"The more attractive you make the option of single parenthood, the more viable it becomes as a lifestyle, the more takers you are going to get for it," said Robert Whelan of the Institute for the Study of Civil Society.

But Ms Harre - now 20 and married - has no time for those who think the scheme might encourage girls to become pregnant.

"I think that's really cynical," she said.

"Anybody that's ever looked after children will know it isn't an easy option.

'Tough job'

"And I would say to anybody considering it to be an easy option: It isn't.

"Looking after children with the workload of exams and pressures like that on you - it's not easy at all," she added.

Sarah Foley and son
Sarah Foley says this is not an incentive to become pregnant
And Sarah Foley, 16, who has a four-month-old son, says people misunderstand girls' thinking.

"They don't actually say, 'I'm going to have a baby so I can get a flat and I'll get all this money and things like that'," she said.

"They either go out and get pregnant because they want to, or it was kind of a mistake."

Michele Lucas, who runs a YWCA support centre for women in Dagenham, east London, argues that raising young women's aspirations at school is one of the most promising ways to bring down Britain's teenage pregnancy rate.

"We really need to be raising young women's expectations so that they can make informed choices," she said.

Young mums
How do you lower teen pregnancies?
See also:

22 Feb 01 | Education
Free childcare for teenage mums
22 Feb 01 | Education
Breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy
17 Aug 00 | Health
Teenage girls fail with Pill
13 Feb 00 | Health
Young take risks with sex
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