Help group for parents as young as 13

BECOMING a parent can turn your life upside down, whatever your age. Health reporter SARAH GILLETT found out about a new support group helping parents as young as 13, in Ipswich.

BECOMING a parent can turn your life upside down, whatever your age. Health reporter SARAH GILLETT found out about a new support group helping parents as young as 13, in Ipswich.

AT first glance, the Sunflowers baby and toddler group looks just like any other.

Toys are strewn across the floor, and the air is filled with the sound of giggles and laughter as children run around with their friends. But this group is a first for Ipswich - all of the mums here are still in their teens.

Run by the Suffolk Teenage Pregnancy Team, the aim of the group is to provide young parents with a place where they can relax and make new friends, and stems from the ante-natal and post-natal work they already provide.

Barbara Sullivan, specialist health visitor for teenage pregnancy, said: “We've run some very successful ante-natal and post-natal groups for young mums at the Connexions Infobar in the town centre, but the babies are all growing up a bit now and we needed somewhere else where people could continue to go.

“Young parents don't tend to access mainstream services very easily, so that's why these specialist services are so important.

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“Just because you're a young parent doesn't mean you're a bad parent. With the right support you can be very good parents.”

Barbara is supported by Shivaun Aveston, the specialist midwife for teenage pregnancy, but it is hoped that the parents themselves will eventually take control of the group, which held its first session on Thursday at the Sure Start centre in Chevalier Street.

Among the young mums, is Maaike Sewell, 17, who has a 15 month old son called Callum.

She said: “I had just turned 16 when I found out I was pregnant and for a long time I did not know any other young mums.

“There were not that many things around for us until now and I would have found it really daunting to go into any other mother and baby club.

“People judge you just by looking at you. They look down on you because you've had a baby at a young age but what they don't know is that I've got all my GCSEs and I'm studying for my A-levels.

“They also assume that you are a single mum, but I live with Callum's dad and we are very happy.”

Maaike, of Falkenham, is full of praise for the teenage pregnancy team.

She said: “They have been absolutely brilliant.

“Before they got in contact with me I was all on my own but now I have so many friends.”

Amy Tjizera, 18, of Burrell Road, Ipswich, who was at the group with her four-month-old son Kwame, agreed.

She said: “When I was pregnant I didn't know anyone my age who was pregnant but now two of my closest friends are people that I have met through the teenage pregnancy team.

“Your other friends don't want to know you once you have a baby because you can't go out anymore and it can be very lonely.”

As well as giving people a place to meet up and chat, the group will also help parents with advice on things like benefits, housing and getting back in to education, and the mums are keen to point out that having a baby does not mean they do not have aspirations like anyone else their age.

Anna Hedrick, 19, of Stoke Park Drive, Ipswich, whose son Harvey is eight months old, said: “People seem to think that because we've had babies we don't want to do anything else with our lives but that's not true at all.

“I'm going to college and I want to train to be a social worker. I know that a lot of the other girls here want to go on and do things like that.”

The group, which is designed for young parents aged 13 to 19, is managed by Suffolk Young People's Health Project as part of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for Suffolk and will run every Thursday from 1.30pm to 3.30pm.

If you are a young parent and you would like more information on the group, call or text Barbara Sullivan on 07968 891626.

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