By DAVID PLUMTREE
The UK is widely quoted as having the highest levels of Teen Pregnancy in Western Europe (EPPI, 2006). The topic of teenage pregnancy has been high on the agenda throughout the Labour government and continues to be a focus for the Coalition. With teenage parents facing comparatively adverse social and health outcomes, it is also identifiable that teenage parents are often excluded from education, training and employment, particularly when they are already socially disadvantaged (SEU, 1999). However, the evidence is contradictory as to whether these adverse outcomes are purely related to the age of conception or are, more likely, a combination of social factors and the impact of decades of structural economic policy. I choose to research the topic because of my intense dislike for Charles Murray. I am interested in aspiration and I wanted to explore this in relation to teenage parents and social exclusion, to challenge the statistics that present a teenage parent as wholly unlikely to live a (subjectively) successful life. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, 41,325 girls under 18 in England and Wales became pregnant in 2008, a decline of 3.9% from 2007, while the number of pregnancies among the under-16s fell 7.6% to 7,577 (The Guardian 24/02/10). Though the decline is far short of the government's pledge to halve teenage pregnancies by 2010 it must be accepted that the strategy is working to a degree. But for me, the scale of the numbers still illustrates this issue will manifest itself in my day to day work. I wanted some comfort that I could work with the numerous young people I encounter in this situation and offer some hope – to draw a capitalist analogy that I am sure Conservatives would approve of; they always say it is easier to sell the product when you believe in it yourself.
For me the hope lies in the emergence of the term and the (perceived?) reality of social exclusion. The idea of Social Exclusion has emerged from the changes in our society. “Murray argues that changes in patterns of family formation threatens the orderliness and prosperity of society” (MacDonald, 1997, pg 10). Yet Teenage Pregnancy rates have not altered that significantly since the sixties. To me this clearly indicates that it has society that has changed, that society and structure has created social exclusion and that there remains hope for teenage parents. My research was derived from the experiences of the subjects and therefore based upon empirical evidence. I aim to compare this with theory established by various sociological writers. The research was conducted in various professional locations – Youth Centres, Sure Start Centres, my office and other professional’s offices. It was conducted over the course of three weeks, coordinated so to keep the previous subjects responses fresh in the mind for the next. I adopted a semi-structured framework, employing a list of pre-defined (though different for the young people and the professionals) questions that are attached in my appendix. From this semi-structure I allowed for the conversation to flow, and to a certain extent, allow the respondent to take me where they wanted to go in relation to the subject.
I have a strong network of both young people and professionals who work with them which helped negate the potential stumbling block of access. This made the process of choosing relevant, current and open participants relatively straightforward, but this in itself brings some potential issues. I find it appropriate to talk about the professionals and the young people separately as the interviews necessitated a different methodology.
For the professionals I was able to call upon my authority’s Teenage Pregnancy Coordinator (who had just been made redundant), the Children in Care Coordinator, the Safeguarding Officer, a...