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Serving Teen Parents Part 1: A Conversation with Sarah Nordhausen

This year the ALSC committee, Library Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers, received several applications for the ALSC/Candlewick “Light the Way: Outreach to the Underserved” Grant for programs aimed at serving teen parents. The committee wanted to bring attention to this patron population and find out more about how libraries can meet their dual (teen and parent) needs.

I recently interviewed Sarah Nordhausen, co-author of Serving Teen Parents: From Literacy to Life Skills (ISBN 1598846930), about her experiences working with teen parents. In part two, I speak with Sarah’s co-author, Ellin Klor.

How did you start working with teen parents?

Sarah: Prior to working in libraries, I worked with a family literacy program with youth in the foster care system. When I worked at San Mateo County Library, the library received a grant for youth literacy and decided to focus on teen parents. For the grant we partnered with two organizations in the highest need areas of the community and my work with teen parents developed from there.

Did your library offer services or programs to the teen parents that are different from services offered to teens who aren’t parents?

Sarah: Absolutely, but the needs of parent and non-parent teens are similar and different. They may be interested in regular teen programming but can’t participate due to child care or other issues like transportation. The best way is to go to them in their facility and talk to them about integrating literacy with everyday activities with their child. For example, I talked with them about the importance of play, things like making Play-doh with your child, and all that comes from spending time with child. Since they’re also teens I did job search and resume building workshops, as well as fun stuff like self-care and make-your-own-facial workshops, spa days, and relaxation and stress reduction techniques. The needs of the teen are to be independent but the needs of the parents are to care for the child; it’s harder for them to do self-exploration and develop who they are when they have a child. I tried to do programming that met both needs.

How do you balance serving the literacy needs of the parent and those of the child?

Sarah: Some moms were reading below their grade level and I was lucky to have an adult literacy program in the county to recommend to moms. It’s hard to meet the literacy needs of your children when you can’t read, so we explored other literacy opportunities like storytelling and other techniques that they can still participate in with their child. Some moms became better readers because they wanted to read to their child.

What would you say is a growing need for teen parents?

Sarah: The library is in a unique position. Libraries can offer services that meet their needs as parents and as teens: regular teen workshops related to life skills such as resume building, job search, and fun stuff like connecting with other teens; and helping them to be the best teacher to their child by providing services on the importance of reading to their children. On a bigger scope, having library staff understand teen parents’ needs and their circumstances and being more flexible. For example, with story time staff needs to understand that the parent is still young and their child management skills are still growing, give them an alternative to participating. Teen parents may have had negatives experiences with libraries and the library staff needs training on the developmental needs of this group.

Tell us about any partnerships or collaborations you have with other organizations? What advice do you have for setting up these partnerships?

Sarah: Partnerships are the way to go because it’s a tough population to identify; they are not always library users. Find an agency that already serves the population. I previously worked with a mental health clinic in Half Moon Bay that already had teen parent group and I approached them to work with their teen parents. Once a month I attended their regular programs doing literacy-based work with parents and children together. Story time with a craft was an opportunity for moms to spend quality time with their children and a good opportunity to model activities to do at home. Another partnership came together after attending a collaborative meeting with various organizations. Afterwards I was invited to help a faith-based organization that also had a transitional housing facility for young mothers. This group had child care so I worked with mothers only. This allowed for more in-depth conversations with mothers around their needs. Someone from library also came in to do early literacy with the children while in child care. My advice is to partner with agencies, schools, community groups, and find them by attending community meetings.

In what ways can libraries and staff support teen parents?

Sarah: Let teens know about other community resources. Teen parents’ needs are diverse and the library can’t meet them all; serving as community connection is a simple way to make impact with moms.

Have you heard from other libraries since publishing your book? What has been the response?

Sarah: We’ve received lots of feedback. We continue to promote services to teen parents through different programming ideas at conferences. I’ve had calls from librarians around the country asking further questions.

What do you like most about working with teen parents?

Sarah: I am amazed by their resiliency and their strength and all that they do. I enjoy seeing them grow. If they show up (at library programs) they want to be there. They want to learn and be the best parents they can be.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your experiences of working with teen parents at the library. Sarah Nordhausen recently moved to Seattle, WA and looks forward to making new connections. You can reach Sarah at sarahnordhausen@gmail.com. Stay tuned for my interview with Ellin Klor.

If your library is working with teen parents, please tell us about your work in the comments.

Interviewed by Africa Hands, Library Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers Committee Member

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