Stigma still strong for teen mothers in Colorado

Photo: teen mother at Florence Crittenton
A Florence Crittenton high school student plays with a friends' baby after a school assembly.

When Denver's Florence Crittenton Home was founded more than a century ago, it was a place where unwed pregnant girls could go to give birth in secret, hiding the shame of having a child out of wedlock.

A lot has changed since then; today Florence Crittenton proudly proclaims its identity as one of Colorado's few schools just for teen parents. But strong social stigmas remain.

In my recent reporting on teen mothers and the barriers they face, this came up a lot. Here's a bit of what I heard:

On being in public while pregnant: "I was pregnant at 15 and I had that little girl face. [People would] be like "Oh my god!" They would judge my mom. They would judge me. My mom was embarrassed to be with me in public."

- Perla, 10th grader at Florence Crittenton High School

On working with schools to accommodate teen parents: "There have been moments in my career when I've felt like we're in the 1970s. There's still some stigma that's attached to our teen parents. There's bias that's involved. Particularly students who are in schools where they're the only teen parent."

- Paula Keenan, Denver Public Schools

On her experience at her former high school: "When you walk [through the halls], you can hear them say things, like "Do you know she's pregnant?" "Do you know Tory's ex-girlfriend? She's pregnant now." I literally walk by and they stare at you and give you a smirk and keep going."

- Valeria, Senior at Florence Crittenton High School

On how damaging these messages are for young parents: "The number one issue is that stigma around them. And it's that narrative... about how you got pregnant, what that means that you got pregnant. And how that affects their own self image. I think that that would be the thing I would love to change for these kids, that experience... And it affects their kids." - Anne Burris, nurse in Aurora Public Schools' Young Parent Support Program

On what people say about her goal of graduating from high school: "Some people, they do have negative things to say. They're like, "oh you're young, you can't do it, your focus has to be on your son" ... People are always going to have something negative to say, but I feel like you have to know yourself that you can do it."

- Christa Hernandez, Senior at Denver's West Career Academy