How would you best describe your job?
My main role is to advocate for our teen moms… to help them when they are in crisis and to connect them to the right resources that will meet their needs. Every new teen mom completes a Needs Assessment and we work together to create an Individual Goal Plan, which covers several areas such as education, benefits, transportation, and the associated documentation. I give the teen mom an initial baseline score, and then program staff members update her score as she moves through our various programs. I am the first stop in evaluating her progression to self-sufficiency.
What is your favorite part of your role as an advocate?
Through the Needs Assessment I get to know the girls and hear their stories. They become much more than a name to me that way, which enables me to love on them uniquely. It’s during this meeting that I’m able to share bits and pieces of my testimony and I get to remind the girls that there is much purpose in our pain….which is encouraging to me and brings hope to our girls.
Tell me about the biggest challenge you face.
The lack of available resources for the population we serve, especially when it comes to housing. There are requirements an applicant must meet to be eligible for certain benefits and the requirements can be frustrating because it makes it hard to remove the barriers that are keeping our girls from reaching self-sufficiency. There have also been unique situations where there aren’t any resources available to help, when that happens, I notify staff and they reach out to their connections to see if anyone can meet the need. The results can be amazing.
Tell me about an amazing result.
One of our teen moms was really struggling with the loss of her mother. A year later her sister passed away, too. The family did not have the money for her sister’s headstone…. she longed for a headstone to honor her sister and mentioned it so often I realized this was a significant issue for her. So… I reached out to staff and soon we had a beautiful headstone that was donated to the family. This young woman and her family had a ceremony when the stone was placed and the generous donation helped our teen mom process and adapt to this significant loss. It provided some closure for her and it gave an assurance that her sister was resting peacefully.
What do you wish you had known before you started this job?
I am a fix-it fox! But I have had to learn the importance of setting boundaries… for my own sake and the sake of our teen moms. This is not a 9 to 5 job because you are dealing with crisis. However, I wish I had learned earlier that it is okay to have and to enforce boundaries. It is okay to decipher what can wait until the next business day. These boundaries are important for our teen moms because without them, they tend to become co-dependent. Boundaries help protect me as well.
What is the best advice you give your teen moms?
It is important to be able to stand on your own! A lot of our teen moms view themselves as less than, and many will put their dreams on hold to stay home to take care of their families. Although this is okay, it is also important for them to learn that they can have their own dreams and goals and be strong enough to achieve those goals. They need to know independence does not make their partner less but that they are both better if they come together strong, especially for their children.
What is your best tip regarding working with human services agencies on behalf of teen moms?
It is so important to cultivate relationships with case workers. Reach out to them and build a relationship because they are more likely to make you a priority. They are so overwhelmed by their case load, but I get a quicker response if I have created a relationship, which helps our moms because often their needs are urgent. So invite your contacts in for a tour, or go visit them and explain your organization so that your clients become real to them and are not just another name.