Empowering Young Parents, Eliminating Disparities

Empowering Young Parents, Eliminating Disparities

Ciara Mejia (third from left) with other Stronger Generation Young Parent Ambassadors

This story appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Brigham and Women’s magazine.

When Ciara Mejia was 16 years old and pregnant with her son Jayden, she didn’t know any other parents her age.

“With my family, it was more about shame and telling me how to raise my son,” says Mejia. “I felt alone and wanted support from people who would understand and encourage me.”

She gained that support when her midwife connected her with Centering Pregnancy, a group-based prenatal care program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) that provides adolescent moms-to-be with education, social support and peer empowerment.

Centering Pregnancy is one of many initiatives in Stronger Generations, a program of the BWH Center for Community Health and Health Equity that empowers more than 700 families each year by providing case management, social support programs, connections to community resources for career guidance and financial planning, and education about safe sleep, breastfeeding, car seat safety, and more.

“Poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care, safe housing, and quality education all contribute to pregnancy complications and poor birth outcomes,” says Ariel Childs, senior coordinator of Health Equity Programs at BWH. “Babies born to black women in Boston are nearly three times as likely to die in their first year compared to white babies. Stronger Generations seeks to reduce racial disparities like these and improve maternal and infant health.”

“The families we serve are extremely strong and resilient,” adds Childs. “They do the hard work; we provide the structure. If we can address the inequities they face and provide stepping stones onto a new path, then we have succeeded.”

“Since its launch eight years ago, Stronger Generations has highlighted the hospital’s commitment to work on difficult issues,” says Wanda McClain, vice president of BWH’s Community Health and Health Equity. “To dedicate ourselves to complex social and economic challenges that our patients face—and to help people beyond our own doors—makes me proud to be a member of the BWH family.”

One of the keys to the program’s success, Mejia notes, is that she and other young parents have the opportunity to create a strong social network and build confidence in their parenting skills. Now the mother of a 4.5-year-old and a Young Parent Ambassador for Stronger Generations, she is paying forward her life-changing BWH experiences by supporting other teens and young-adult parents.

“The people I meet here make me a better parent, a better person, and make me want to do better things for my life,” Mejia says. “Seeing other young parents getting their education and graduating college has inspired me. I’m very grateful for that.”