Report: 14 percent of young Idaho adults are parents

October 9, 2018

Pilar Cervantes has her portrait taken in June 2015 at Magic Valley High School in Twin Falls. Cervantes, now a 22-year-old who lives in Idaho Falls, was a teenager when she gave birth to her two oldest daughters.

TWIN FALLS — After graduating from Magic Valley High School in 2015, Pilar Cervantes was a single mother working in a Buhl factory.

Meanwhile, she was raising her two young daughters and figuring out child care options.

“It’s a lot of pressure being a single parent raising two girls and juggling a 12-hour shift,” Cervantes said Wednesday.

Now, Cervantes is 22 years old and living in Idaho Falls. She got married a year ago and had a baby girl seven months ago. Her older daughters are 5 and 7 years old, and are in school.

“These two years have been perfect,” she said.

But it wasn’t easy getting there. “You always have doubt, that you’re never going to get anywhere,” she said. “You always have those moments when you feel hopeless.” But, she added, “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

A new national Kids Count policy report — “Opening Doors for Young Parents” — from the Annie E. Casey Foundation focuses on families led by young adult parents ages 18 to 24 and the obstacles they face.

Those obstacles could include financial insecurity, disrupted education, challenges with finding employment at a pay rate needed to support a family, lack of access to quality and affordable child care, and inadequate housing, Idaho Voices for Children said in a statement Tuesday.

“Becoming a parent can be a powerful motivator to build family financial security and become self-sufficient,” Idaho Voices for Children spokeswoman Christine Tiddens said in the statement. “But young parents face multiple obstacles to achieving their goals. These obstacles threaten not only young parents, but also their children, setting off a chain of weakened opportunities for Idaho’s future generations.”

Nationwide, though, the percentage of teenagers and young adults who have children has dropped sharply — a 42 percent decline since the early 1990s, according to the Kids Count report.

In Idaho, 14 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are parents — higher than the nationwide average of 10 percent. In total, 25,000 Idaho children have young adult parents. Of those children, 62 percent live in a household below 200 percent of the federal poverty line — compared with 45 percent of all Idaho children.

Twin Falls School District Superintendent Brady Dickinson said he doesn’t think the district tracks parents’ ages.

“For schools, it’s about meeting the needs of kids,” Dickinson said.

Although he hasn’t noticed changes in the number of young parents with children in the school district, he said the national report was interesting and something he’d be interested in looking into specific to Twin Falls.

When it comes to poverty, “we know kids in poverty face educational challenges,” he said, adding educators adjust what they’re doing to meet children’s needs.

There’s also a difference between generational poverty and temporary poverty, Dickinson said. When young adults get married, they may not have a lot of money and be temporarily living in poverty, but things change as they eventually progress in a career, he said.

When it comes to education for young adult parents, only 13 percent in Idaho have completed an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Idaho Voices for Children’s statement. And 13 percent don’t have a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate.

State officials see students who start their senior year of high school with clear paths for themselves, but after they graduate, life happens, said Debbie Critchfield, vice president for the Idaho State Board of Education and spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District.

“They’re not able to complete those for a variety of reasons,” Critchfield said. “Clearly, that involves being younger parents and so forth.”

The Idaho Board of Education has policies, initiatives and communication strategies — “messaging to this particular demographic” — to try to encourage more people to pursue higher education, she said.

The state’s “Complete College Idaho” plan aims for 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds to have a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2020 in order to help meet workforce needs.

There’s also a push to improve Idaho’s “go on” rate. About half of Idaho’s high school seniors pursue higher education — such as college or workforce training — within a year after graduating.

And there’s an “Idaho Opportunity Scholarship for Adult Learners” to help adults who’ve had a hiatus in their college education come back to finish.

The Idaho State Board of Education has also been looking at potentially offering college credits for prior learning, Critchfield said. That would allow U.S. armed forces veterans and those who’ve already been in the workforce, for example, to take a test to demonstrate their knowledge in an area and earn college credits.

As a young teenager, Cervantes found out she was pregnant. She wanted to enroll in ninth grade at Buhl High School, but school employees were worried about her safety in a crowded traditional school setting.

A doctor told her about Magic Valley High, which has a child care center on campus. Cervantes enrolled after her daughter was born.

During her junior year of high school, Cervantes found out she was pregnant again. She pushed through to earn a high school diploma.

“After high school, I became a single mom,” Cervantes said Wednesday. Her significant other wasn’t ready to be a father yet, she said. “He was still wanting to have his freedom.”

That’s something a lot of young parents struggle with, Cervantes said, adding they have to learn to put the well-being of their children first.

Shortly after high school, she was juggling 12-hour work days with very few days off and taking care of her daughters. “It was such a stressful experience.”

Her daughters were in child care, but didn’t like it. Her parents ended up helping a lot with watching her daughters.

Cervantes felt guilty. “With working so much, I felt I wasn’t being a good mom,” she said. She was making money to provide for her daughters and pay for what they needed, she said, but wasn’t able to tuck them into bed at night.

Cervantes said she ended up finding a good, stable job with an eight hours a day, five days a week schedule. “I was able to spend time with my kids.”

Now, Cervantes is married and said she has a lot of help. She said her husband has stepped up to the plate, is an amazing stepfather and an excellent provider. “I feel so much better.”

Cervantes was a stay-at-home mother for a while and her husband financially supported the family. She now works part-time as a customer service representative.

When it comes to parenting, it’s never easy, she said.

“It’s always a challenge when you’re a young parent.”

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