Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

September 25, 2018

HELENA, Montana - Parenting can be a challenge for even the most financially secure Montanans, but the hardships can be even greater for young adults. 

A report out Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called "Opening Doors for Young Parents," stressed the need for increased programs to support people between 18 and 24 who have children. Jennifer Calder with Montana Kids Count said supporting young parents is a chance to help two generations of Montanans.

"It's sort of this double window of opportunity in terms of neural development," Calder said; "because 18-24 and really 0-5, they're unique, pivotal periods - so the young adults and their children. So if we invest in young parents, we're really boosting two generations."

The report finds that 13 percent of Montana children have young parents - more than the national average of 10 percent - and 63 percent of these children live in low-income households. Calder said access to early education is crucial for young parents and Montana faces a critical need for affordable, quality infant care in particular. 

The report recommended states provide increased access to child care, housing and employment opportunities.

While 80 percent of young Montana parents graduated high school or have their GED, only 7 percent have an associate degree or higher. Rosa Maria Castaneda, senior associate with the Casey Foundation, said family-sustaining jobs increasingly require post-secondary education and specialized skills. But young parents who have limited resources are unable to stay competitive in this workforce landscape. 

She said apprenticeship programs, career programs, and post-secondary education are a boost to earning power and to getting high-quality jobs.

"Young parents have less access to these, and they're less able to participate in these programs and not have their education disrupted because they're having some challenges just meeting some basic needs," Castaneda said.

The report also highlighted the importance of voluntary home-visiting programs for parents and access to health care. Children are more likely to have coverage if their parents are insured.