Promising practice details


C4EO theme: Youth

Tackling teenage pregnancy by empowering teenage parents to deliver educational courses to their peers, Straight Talking Peer Education, Kingston-upon-Thames

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Straight Talking Peer Education

    Local authority/local area:



    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    Straight Talking strives to share best practice in relation to its work in the field of teenage pregnancy; to help drive down teenage conception rates and support future generations of teenage mothers and young fathers to fulfil their potential.

    The idea
    The idea was formulated 14 years ago by the founder of Straight Talking Peer Education who has remained the Chief Executive up to the present.

    Straight Talking was initially approached by a school and asked to devise and deliver an educational course, as staff believed their teenage school pupils had no understanding of the realities of teenage pregnancy and parenthood. A course was designed and delivered by the founder but soon after this, she formulated the idea of an innovative ‘peer education’ intervention which would simultaneously work to reduce conception rates and support, train, employ and empower vulnerable teenage parents. The idea was that teenage parents would be recruited, trained and employed on a sessional basis to deliver the courses to teenagers in schools, speaking peer to peer about teenage pregnancy and parenthood.

    The need for this intervention
    When the idea was formed, teenage conception rates in the UK were the highest in Western Europe. It was clear that urgent action was necessary. Fourteen years later, rates have dropped significantly in some areas, but shockingly, rates in the UK are still the highest in Western Europe. Straight Talking has made great inroads into this problem but this innovative model needs to be replicated across the UK in order to achieve more widespread progress. The numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has also been a very concerning social and economic issue in the UK for many years. This intervention was also established to tackle this problem head on.

    The idea was also born from the shocking reality that teenage pregnancy and young parenthood robs young people of a childhood and seriously impacts their future life chances. Unfortunately, it is well known that teenage pregnancy goes hand in glove with poverty and deprivation as both a cause and a consequence.

    Over many years there has been much documentation and debate on poor outcomes for teenage parents and their children. Teenage parenthood almost always results in disengagement from education, underachievement, decreased self-esteem, low expectations regarding future prospects, discrimination and social exclusion. It can lead to increased levels of offending, depression and there are some cases of early death through suicide. Sadly, it is also commonly associated with poor health and wellbeing outcomes including increased risk of low birth-weight babies, 60% higher infant mortality rate and poor mental health status.

    In addition to the health and social consequences, there are very serious economic repercussions if insufficient action is taken to address the high levels of teenage pregnancy. The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy Evaluation in 2005 (Department for Children, Schools and Families) calculated that a 17 year old giving birth would receive an estimated £96,000 in benefits across a five year period. There are currently over 50,000 teenage conceptions per year in England and Wales.

    Spending cuts and rising unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, are increasing the hardship experienced by many young people. Worryingly, this will inevitably trigger an increase in this country’s already appalling teenage pregnancy rates. It is self-evident that a rise in conception rates will have a significant impact on the cost of housing, social welfare, the NHS and wider public services.

    The final report from the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group in 2010 concluded that 'early intervention which addresses poverty, health inequalities and disadvantage is crucial.'

    This intervention was established in a quest to tackle two serious problems simultaneously: reducing conception rates and supporting and empowering teenage parents to fulfill their potential in life. It was felt that on the one hand, employing and empowering teenage parents would increase their self-esteem and confidence, help to lift them out of a cycle of poverty and give them the opportunity of a much brighter future and on the other hand, empowering them to deliver the courses would give teenagers the opportunity to hear the ‘real’ story from their peers of what life was really like being pregnant and having a baby in the teenage years.

    Knowledge base
    Statistics (relating to teenage conception rates) showed that urgent action was necessary. There was also plenty of evidence of the correlation between teenage pregnancy and poverty and of poverty passing down through the generations. In addition, it was well documented that many teenage parents had very low self-esteem and very low expectations of themselves and their futures.

    The Chief Executive of Straight Talking had already been working in the field of teenage pregnancy and had gleaned a very substantial amount of knowledge of the needs of teenage parents prior to establishing this intervention.

    The aims of the intervention
    The intervention was established with two clear aims/ outcomes in mind:
    1) to help to drive down the rates of teenage conceptions in the UK
    2) to support disadvantaged teenage mothers and fathers to access education, training and employment and to fulfill their potential.

    The aim was to provide teenage parents with an opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and to help them (and therefore their children) to achieve a good quality of life. By providing teenage parents with a chance of employment and a meaningful purpose, we aimed to offer them self-esteem and confidence. It was felt that a peer education model was really important and that these teenagers would be seen by others in the classroom as ‘experts’ and that their views and perspective would be respected by their peers. As a consequence, the aim was that many young people would delay pregnancy until they were older. As a result of being trained and employed to deliver courses as a ‘peer educator’, it was hoped that many vulnerable teenage parents would be empowered to go on to access further employment or to re-engage with education or training. This, in turn, would affect their whole future outlook and that of their young children.


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    The practice
    • The first important element of the intervention is identifying the right community to work within. It is always important to consider the teenage conception rates (looking for areas where these are high) and the level of deprivation. Identifying schools within the area which would value an input and support; going in to their school to deliver educational courses to 13-16 year olds about the realities of teenage pregnancy and parenthood.
    • Working with other young people’s organisations and professionals including schools, Connexions, school nurses and local Children’s Services in order to identify vulnerable teenage parents who are in need of support. Advertise the opportunity to apply for a post working on a sessional basis as a ‘peer educator’.
    • Interviewing teenage parents, to fill the required number of vacancies – depending on the funding that has been secured and the number of schools involved.
    • Ensuring all newly appointed peer educators attend training leading to Open College Network qualifications in Peer Education and Career Planning.
    • Supporting the teenage parents to deliver the courses which last for three to five weeks and which are very fun, dynamic and interactive. The peer educators engage the school pupils by involving them in a series of activities and games. They explore practicalities, emotional and physical issues, financial issues and the long-term impact which having a baby as a teenager can have on education and on employment prospects. The aim is to ensure that young people are engaged and that they are armed with information to enable them to make an informed and educated choice about when is the right time for them to become a parent. Whereas sex education in schools teaches pupils how not to get pregnant, this programme focuses on why not to get pregnant as a teenager.

    In addition:
    • Some peer educators are promoted to roles with more responsibility within the organisation- local scheme co-ordinators and regional scheme co-ordinators. This offers them the opportunity to learn further skills, to work for more hours and to earn more; all of which will greatly increase their chances of securing further employment, as well as increasing their confidence, self-esteem and quality of life. Only three members of staff within the organisation are NOT promoted peer educators. This ensures that the ‘service users’ remain right at the heart of Straight Talking, constantly involved in key decision-making.
    • Each year, peer educators are offered the opportunity to participate in a residential project. At this event, relationship issues and domestic violence, given that domestic violence can be shockingly common in many of the peer educators’ relationships, is explored. The peer educators are helped to understand what is not acceptable and how to go about managing their situation. This experience can be very insightful and liberating for the teenage parents and can also help them to move forwards with real motivation to fulfil their potential in life.
    • Another very important element of this intervention is supporting teenage parents back into education, or into training or further employment. One to one meetings are held with them to offer encouragement, mentoring and support. Evaluations have showed that this is highly effective; 95% of the peer educators do go on to access education, training and employment subsequent to their engagement with Straight Talking.

    Organisations/other stakeholders involved
    Once identified and the Local Authority has been consulted to gain their support, it is crucial that Straight Talking works very closely with schools in the identified area. Schools must commit to the delivery of the course to 13-16 year olds over a set period (the courses are normally delivered once a week over a period of three to five weeks)

    Other stakeholders include: other youth organisations and professionals, including teenage pregnancy co-ordinators and teams, Children’s Services, PSE teachers, Primary Care Trusts, school nurses, youth services, Connexions, Parentline Plus, Parenting UK and the Sex Education Forum. These individuals and organisations help to identify teenage parents who are in need of support and who would value the opportunity to apply for a post as a peer educator.

    Some organisations working across Europe that have been partners, has led to the introduction of some teenage parents to peers in other countries including Poland, Germany and Lithuania – in order to learn from and motivate each other to fulfill their potential.


    Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

    Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

    Performance measures
    A benchmarking exercise to measure understanding about the impact of having a baby amongst those under 16 years has been developed. Pre- and post- course meetings with teachers are held and questionnaires issued to all pupils pre- and post-course delivery to measure any change in attitude and understanding.

    The progress of teenage parents in terms of self-confidence, motivation, attitude to employment and changes to their often chaotic lives are monitored though one to one and staff meetings and more formal appraisal meetings. In addition, access to education, training and employment and later progress is tracked over the next few years.
    The number of courses delivered each year, the number of pupils reached and the number of peer educators that are employed, trained and empowered are also monitored.

    A report completed by Deloitte is available which looks at Straight Talking’s Social Return on Investment. This evaluation demonstrates that Straight Talking is very effective in:
    • helping to drive down teenage conception rates;
    • supporting young parents, understanding their needs and improving quality of life and future opportunities for them and for their children.

    A quote from the evaluation is shown below.
    Straight Talking has proven to be a highly successful initiative which has succeeded in reaching and supporting a significant number of vulnerable and disadvantaged young mothers and fathers across society. It has also proven to encourage young people to think more positively about their futures and provide the confidence and life skills to cope with unexpected events and to challenge themselves in reaching their full potential.

    Data was collated (2010/11) which showed the following outcomes were successfully achieved:

    • Awareness of the emotional, social and practical problems associated with becoming a teenage parent is increased (encouraging young people to delay pregnancy – and ultimately helping to reduce conception rates);
    • Peer educators’ motivation, confidence and self-esteem is increased;
    • Peer educators’ mental health and wellbeing improves;
    • Peer educators’ skill base and potential employability are increased;
    • Social isolation is reduced;
    • Peer educators have improved aspirations and decide to progress into alternative employment, training and education.

    One peer educator explained: I was going down the wrong path and becoming more isolated … Now, I feel like I can do whatever I put my mind to”. Another stated: “Straight Talking has played a huge part in getting my life back on track. I have a job now and I feel positive about the future … I literally would have been nowhere without the support and direction from Straight Talking.

    Data for 2011/12
    195 courses were delivered in 35 schools to approximately 5,850 pupils. These courses were delivered by 58 teenage parents employed by Straight Talking as peer educators in the areas of Kingston, Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Southwark and Birmingham.

    Four external evaluations have been undertaken over the past 12 years. The most recent was undertaken by Deloitte and was completed in July 2012. This explored the social return on investment and reported on the outcomes as detailed above. The Tavistock Institute also completed an evaluation in 2009.

    The difference made
    Previous evaluations have evidenced that the intervention has had more impact in schools in more deprived communities, with lower achievers. As a result, the approach is now more targeted and efforts are focused on building relationships and delivering this intervention in more deprived communities.


    Sustaining and replicating your practice

    Helping others to replicate your practice

    In terms of financial sustainability, we are now working to secure more trading income and further relationships with local authorities. This will help us to sustain our activity in each area where we currently work – and in new areas as well.

    We will also continue to be very selective and focused in choosing geographical areas for new activity. We have learnt that we can achieve more in this way; our impact is far greater when we work in more deprived communities where teenage conception rates are higher and where many teenage parents are living in poverty.

    Costs and benefits
    The evaluation by Deloitte mentioned above specifically studied the social return on investment. This reported that the social return on investment was £6.22 for every £1 invested. C4EO conducted a similar exercise and over five years,£8.93 for every £1 invested is saved. The primary benefit identified was the costs saved by addressing the disengagement and low aspirations amongst the teenage parents. Of those who were NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) prior to their engagement with Straight Talking, 100% were proven to gain valuable employability skills through the programme.

    Kingston-upon-Thames was the location of the very first intervention. The intervention has now been replicated successfully in a number of other local authority areas including Barking and Dagenham, Southwark, Newham, Ealing, Hounslow, Brent, Bromley, Islington, Merton, Richmond and Birmingham.

    Learning from the experience
    From the experience gained over the years of implementing this intervention, the following points are highlighted:
    • It is important to be very aware that working with teenage parents is challenging and resource-intensive.
    • It is important to take the time to listen to young people and to learn from them about what works best for them/what they really need. You must trust them in order to help them to improve their lives which are often very chaotic. You must be focused and very targeted when selecting the communities in which the intervention will be undertaken. Outcomes are far more positive when work is targeted to young people from more challenging backgrounds and in schools where the message about teenage pregnancy and parenthood is more relevant – due to high teenage conception rates. More recently, Straight Talking has been targeting more deprived boroughs in London and Birmingham and also working with Pupil Referral Units and teaching centres with young people who have disengaged from education.

    Barriers and challenges which have been encountered include the following:
    • Some teenage parents’ lives are very chaotic and they are often struggling with diverse issues that can affect their reliability.
    • Managing the payroll can be challenging given that most peer educators are on benefits and are then being paid for their work as peer educators.
    • Some teenage parents are reluctant to let anyone else look after their child. Co-ordinating childcare is essential though if they are to become a peer educator. This can present challenges.
    • Many relationship and domestic violence issues are disclosed which can be very challenging to deal with.
    • Working with teenage parents is extremely resource-intensive.

    It is also crucial that staff (including all teenage parents themselves) always receive the necessary training and support.

    This model has already been replicated in a number of areas very successfully including Barking and Dagenham, Southwark, Newham, Ealing, Hounslow, Brent, Bromley, Islington, Merton, Richmond and Birmingham. It was also replicated in Somerset and Trafford but funding was withdrawn.

    Core leadership behaviours
    The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. The leadership behaviour characteristics which apply to this example have been emboldened.

    i. openness to possibilities
    The external environment (including the political environment) is continuously changing. It is vital that Straight Talking is aware of this and able to respond accordingly/ be ready to change the way we are approaching activity. It is vital to always learn and respond to opportunities.

    ii. the ability to collaborate
    To be successful, Straight Talking must take a multi-agency approach. Teenage pregnancy is a very complex, socially entrenched issue and it is not one that can be tackled alone. Straight Talking collaborates with schools, local authorities, youth organisations and other charities, sharing expertise and best practice.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people
    When the programme was initiated, many people commented that teenage parents would not be reliable or be capable of delivering the programmes in schools. A firm belief in the teenage parents and their abilities and a belief in staff at Straight Talking and their ability to empower teenage parents to fulfil their potential has been critical to the success of this work.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system

    vi. focusing on results
    Demonstrating clear outcomes and measuring them has always been a priority for Straight Talking. Some people are suspicious about the value of peer education programmes and about how much impact the programme can have on the lives of the teenage peer educators. Emphasis has always been placed on measuring results and channelling enough resource to do this. The SROI report is a clear example of this.

    vii. the ability to simplify
    Straight Talking has focused on being very practical and has implemented what is known to work across different communities where teenage pregnancy is a complex and entrenched problem.

    viii. the ability to learn continuously.

    C4EO Golden Threads
    The Golden Threads that apply to this example are shown below.

    You can do it – promoting resilience
    Straight Talking is passionate about helping young people to achieve their potential; giving them the skills to help themselves. Our input is a mediating force for young people who are experiencing very adverse circumstances; helping to boost their confidence and empowering them to fulfill their potential.

    Know your communities
    Straight Talking has 15 years of experience, working with teenage mothers and fathers from all backgrounds and culture and understanding and responding to their needs.

    Holding the baton
    Stable relationships between Straight Talking’s staff and the teenage mothers and young fathers are vital in terms of building the young people’s confidence, self-esteem and helping them to fulfill their potential.

    Culture not structure – learning together
    It is essential to work closely with schools and with other organisations to ensure that the intervention is targeted where it can have the greatest impact. A multi-agency approach is imperative.

    Shape up and keep fit – learning together
    It is imperative that staff are fully trained and equipped to deal effectively with teenage mothers and young fathers and the emotional and practical issues which they present e.g. domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues.

    Prove it – making change happen
    Straight Talking takes (and will continue to take) full ownership of proving the impact of its work - teenage pregnancy is a challenging area and it is critical that outcomes are measured. The recent external evaluation by Deloitte (and a number of other previous external evaluations) evidences both this commitment and a high degree of success in achieving desired outcomes.

    From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key
    Straight Talking has a clear vision for replicating its model to reach other areas. It is important to embed the intervention within the local community and the schools that have already received the intervention. This ensures that the lessons learnt are not just stand alone lessons.

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