Teen Moms & Infant Abuse

    In Lake Worth, Florida, a fifteen-year-old girl gives birth to a baby boy in the toilet of her home. She stuffs the newborn into a garbage bag and tosses him over a six-foot fence. Later, a neighbor hears the crying child and calls police. Although listed in fair condition, the baby suffers from breathing problems and internal bleeding from the fall. It's another all-too-common story of a scared and stressed teenage mom abusing her newborn. In the United States today, a million teenage girls get pregnant each year. Half give birth. And today's teen moms present high-risk child-abuse challenges as well, because they're not prepared for what they are facing. Many teenage moms remain unmarried. Most have limited education, resources, and family support. A child born to an unmarried teenage high-school dropout is ten times as likely to live in poverty. Most teen moms don't plan for pregnancy and have little knowledge of child care. Some are substance abusers. Others come from abusive families themselves. The Department of Health and Human Services states that almost one million children were victims of child abuse and neglect in 1998, with over a thousand fatalities. Occurring in all income, racial, and ethnic groups, and in urban, suburban, and rural communities, the children most abused are newborns to three-year-old toddlers. In fact, it's children under one year of age that account for more than a third of child-abuse fatalities. The problem of teen-mom baby abuse hasn't gone unnoticed by the evangelical churches, however. Many churches are actively helping teen moms learn to cope with the stresses of childbirth, single child- rearing, and financial needs. Gwen Austin and her daughter, Alma, for instance, started the MOMS support group after Alma's own experience with teenage single parenting. MOMS is an acronym meaning Mentoring Other Mothers who are Single. The mentoring is done by older women who are single parents, as well as married women who serve as role models for younger moms. "We saw the need to reach out to young single moms in a supportive and caring environment," Gwen says. Through New City Church, and the Center for Urban Missions, in Birmingham, Alabama, Gwen, Alma, and other concerned Christian women address directly the unique needs and frustrations of teen moms. "The biggest problem in America today is fatherlessness," Gwen states. "Without a committed, involved father in the home, children lack direction and mothers lack support." Without loving and caring support, child abuse can, and often does, happen. But these women meet with young single mothers weekly. The church offers free child care during the meetings. One single mom in the group is only twelve years old. Several girls suffered abuse from their own mothers' hands. They're being taught coping skills to keep them from becoming child abusers themselves. This is a wonderful example of what the Church ought to be doing to meet real needs in our communities and to present a powerful witness at the same time. Teen moms are a real and present challenge for all of us. Frightened teens can panic, and their babies pay the price. And that's why we must reach out to them. Remember that every teenage mom (and her newborn) is a precious gift from God. For further reference: "America's Children: How Are They Doing?" American Humane Association Fact Sheet: KIDSCOUNT, 1996. "Child Maltreatment 1998: Reports from the States to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000 [online]. "Teenage Parents." AOL Parenting, 9 February 2001. For information about The New City Church's MOMS support group, call Jean or Tandra at 205-252-8284 or write to: The New City Church Attn: M.O.M.S 2030 1st Avenue North Birmingham, AL 35203


Chuck Colson


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