The Addison County Parent/Child Center opened its doors in 1980 in Middlebury, Vermont, under the auspices of a grant through the federal Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs. It was one of the first four model demonstration projects in the country chosen to address the growing challenge of teen pregnancy and parenting- and the only rural one. Local educators, human service providers, health professionals, members of the faith community, and most importantly, parents, had written the grant envisioning a comprehensive program which would operate under an outreach/center/network model of delivery. Outreach workers made home visits bringing services out into the rural community. Vans brought infants and toddlers into a centrally located childcare program so the young parents could continue in school. The myriad of state and local initiatives developed to support these young families were linked to assure coordination and non-duplication of effort and to help adolescents understand and eventually gain control of their own network of service providers.
The pressures on these adolescents were great. While most teens worked their way through adolescence, graduated from high school, began their careers and then started a family, teen parents needed to accomplish these tasks all at once. By necessity the time frame was condensed. We began to consider our work in terms of the specific skills that we all need to learn to be successful, productive adults and good parents. It quickly became clear to us that there is a great deal of overlap between the job readiness and retention skills one needs to be a good worker and the interpersonal skills and personal traits one needs to be a good parent: dependability, reliability, comfort with routine, positive communication skills, observations skills, the ability to recognize the needs of others and to put one’s own needs on the back burner when necessary.
During the first few years of existence, Parent/Child Center staff came to some other important realizations. First of all, when parents were not only consumers of Center services, but were also part of delivering them, they made incredible gains in both their job readiness and retention skill and in their parenting skills. Being immersed in an environment that modeled and demanded high quality interpersonal and adult/child interactions, as well as a positive work ethic, had a dramatic effect. Secondly, families needed to be served holistically in order to have the greatest positive effect. A program that addressed parents’ needs and children’s needs separately would never be as powerful as one that also brought adults and children together to focus on strengthening the family as a whole. Finally, families had much to teach and offer in support of each other and much to teach us as professionals. Over the thirty-plus years we have been in operation, we have learned to not be afraid to try new ideas and discard those that did not produce the results we were looking for. The entire staff continues to meet weekly to maintain lines of communication and evaluate parts of the program.
The model remains the same after three decades, though the families whom we serve has grown to include those from all age groups, socio-economic levels and types of need.
The outcomes have been remarkable for Addison County:
Low teen pregnancy rate
Low juvenile adjudication rate
Low rate of abuse and neglect among families with young children
Virtually no minor parents on welfare
Low repeat pregnancy rate among program participants
High rate of participants going on to self-sufficiency
High rate of participants completing their high school education
For second-generation program graduates (adolescents and adults whose families were program participants when they were young children) the outcomes are even more remarkable:
Few teen pregnancies
Few on welfare
High rate of high school graduations
Little involvement with the legal system
In a study by the National Center for the Study of Social Policy, commissioned by the Doris Duke Foundation in 2001. The Parent/Child Center was named one of the twenty-one best programs in the country for preventing child abuse and neglect and become a foundation for the Strengthening Families Program of NCSSP.
These successes translate into financial savings:
Saving Public Dollars through Preventing Teen Pregnancies
- Through funding provided by the William T. Grant Foundation and Pfizer Inc., the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy analyzed the public cost of teen childbearing state by state. Based on figures available for 2004, annual cost to Vermont taxpayers was at least $12 Million. 66% ($7,920,000) of that cost consisted of state and local dollars as opposed to federal dollars.
- Without even considering the documented long-term cost to the public of adolescent parenting, such things as increased incarceration rates among the sons of teen parents and the high teen pregnancy rate among daughters, the study identified an annual per/pregnancy cost to Vermont taxpayers of $8000.
- Had Addison County’s teen pregnancy rate matched the state rate in 2008, the cost to taxpayers would have been, at a minimum, an additional $102,000 that year alone. Had the Addison County rate matched the state’s highest rate, it would have cost taxpayers an additional $819,000 that year.