When a teenage Quinton Baker found out he was going to be a father, he felt a whirl of emotions, but one thing was clear: He wanted to be involved in his child’s life.
He had heard of Teen Parent Connection from a friend and signed up for one of the nonprofit’s prenatal programs with his partner, Stephanie. Together, they learned how to prepare for childbirth and attended a support group with other young parents.
“It’s nice just knowing that it’s not only you,” said Baker, now 26, who lives in Plano.
Teen Parent Connection is a nearly 30-year-old organization based in Glen Ellyn that serves young parents throughout DuPage County before and after the birth of their child, helping them to navigate parenthood and adolescence simultaneously.
About 500 babies are born to teenage parents each year in the county, according to statistics from TPC.
“It would be tragic if we weren’t here, because those are 500 kids with 1,000 parents who are struggling with the very adult stressors that are going on in their lives,” Executive Director Becky Beilfuss said.
Because of the challenges teen parenthood poses, children born to teens are about twice as likely to be abused or neglected than those whose mothers and fathers are older, Beilfuss said.
To combat those statistics, Teen Parent Connection provides free, comprehensive programming to about 430 parents in DuPage County.
Services are offered to moms ages 12 through 22 and dads ages 12 through 25.
Services include prenatal groups and childbirth education classes, doula and home visitation programs, support groups, pregnancy prevention education and an incentive-based “Parents’ Pantry” that provides donated items to families.
Support groups are in towns such as West Chicago, which historically has had the highest teen birth rate in DuPage County, Beilfuss said.
Support groups are important for pregnant or parenting teens because they often feel isolated from their peers, said Kat Cahill, who facilitates groups in Downers Grove, Villa Park and various DuPage County high schools.
“It really provides them with some place to go and relate and mentor each other,” Cahill said.
As part of ongoing efforts to provide services for teen fathers, Teen Parent Connection now offers two support groups specifically for dads.
“We want to empower these young men to really become self-sufficient,” said Courtney Simek, parent and community engagement manager.
After going through the support group program himself, Baker now serves as the facilitator for the dads’ group in Downers Grove. He recently was chosen to receive a 2013 Father of the Year award from Children’s Home + Aid’s Parents Care + Share.
As a group facilitator, Baker emphasizes to other fathers that just because they can’t be with their children constantly, it doesn’t mean they can’t play a significant role in their lives. Parenting is about all the interactions they have with their kids, big or small.
“You can be a father in more ways than one,” Baker said.