Dear Mr. Federal Way,
We are failing the children in our community who are in the most need.
Recently, you made a great point that children under age 18 aren’t (supposed to be) responsible for their own living situations and that we should be outraged. I strongly agree.
You also called their parents “worthless.” I strongly disagree.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, young parents and their children make up 25 percent of homeless families. That means a good portion of kids who are homeless are so because their parents are or were teen parents.
Those parents aren’t worthless; they are unprepared, underserved and even discarded by our society.
Federal Way, we are failing.
When we pass that multi-million dollar school bond later this year, let’s really think about our community and its future when rebuilding another high school.
Let’s think on-site child-care facility, on-site healthcare, on-site counseling and for-credit parenting and early childhood classes.
Instead of deciding that only certain community members are worth those brand-new, modernized facilities with working heat, working plumbing and internet access, let’s consider that we could have less homeless kids in our community if we started supporting their parents earlier.
What’s in the way?
• Fear of discussing reproduction basics. I make a good part of my living educating people about the basics of how reproduction happens because other adults don’t want to.
They are embarrassed, red faced and stammering when having to talk with children and teens about eggs, sperm and uteruses. And because we play musical classes with teachers, many end up with this topic on their syllabus with completely inadequate training to teach it.
• Stigma around teen sexuality. It’s much easier for many people to hide behind “teens shouldn’t have sex!” than to realize that we need to be teaching them about a basic life skill. Most people will end up having sex. When we teach high school teens about balancing a checkbook, many of them don’t have a checking account yet, but we know they will, and it’s a skill they will need.
The research on giving teens information about sexuality and safety is definitive that it doesn’t make them have sex, and, in fact, it makes them safer when they do. This research has been replicated so many times that organizations don’t even waste money researching it anymore. Why does this myth persist? Fear and judgment.
• Misinformed people in decision-making roles who ignore facts. Facts like teen parenthood is the No. 1 reason teen mothers drop out of school. Facts like programs that are successful in keeping teen moms in school often have on-site healthcare and childcare services.
It’s no surprise that parents who do not have a high school education are much more likely to live in poverty.
They rarely have well-paying jobs with benefits. They lack access to stable housing, health care, healthy food and transportation. They may end up homeless for a short or long while.
So, while this won’t end the problem of homeless children in Federal Way, having a vision for our future that refuses to discard any child, regardless of their parenting status, makes sense.
Unlike you, Mr. Federal Way, I consider this mine and everyone’s business in our community.
Amy Johnson is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.