By: Danielle Castonzo
Imagine you’re fifteen years old and four months pregnant. You’re going to the doctor, but you still feel lost and unsure of what to expect. You feel unsupported at home and at school and overwhelmed by the contradictory information online. You’re trying to graduate high school, stay healthy, and get ready to support a newborn – but you feel hopeless.
All you want is a reliable, safe support system to help you achieve your goal: birthing and raising a healthy child.
Christopher House’s Teen and Adult Pregnant and Parenting Services (TAPPS) is that support system for teen mothers in Chicago. TAPPS connects low-income teens and young mothers—up to age 21—with doulas and parent educators who provide emotional, physical, and educational support before, during, and after childbirth—and it’s completely free.
Michael Gouterman, Associate Director of TAPPS, oversees the doulas and parent educators and advocates on behalf of the women and families served. Michael has been with Christopher House for over six years; he started as a social worker at the Uptown campus. While he loved his work as a social worker, he was inspired to explore the impact he could have when working with families right at birth, connecting them to resources and developing healthy habits from the beginning.
Michael spoke to us about the importance of working with families from birth: “Even at ages three or four, behaviors and habits are so entrenched already. In that first month, that first year, you can have such a big impact, just sitting down and working through a child’s development with a parent and discussing ways to improve your family’s wellbeing.”
TAPPS begins before birth to set new moms and their babies up for success. New moms are paired with a doula—a professional trained in childbirth who prepares new mothers for labor. Doulas visit new moms every week to teach them about their changing bodies, address the realities of parenting, and explain what delivery will be like. Doulas are present for the delivery and support new moms through the birth, and they continue to work with mothers on newborn care and breastfeeding.
When the baby is no longer a newborn, a Parent Educator takes over. The focus shifts onto the child’s healthy development and growth. Parent Educators visit the new moms at home every other week and teach family-centered, strengths-based approaches to create a stronger bond between mother and child.
Through TAPPS, mothers can also get connected to a bimonthly prenatal group, which offers group curriculum for pregnant mothers and a parenting group. The parenting group offers a monthly group activity for all TAPPS families, giving them the opportunity to meet other parents while enjoying field trips and building a support network. Meeting other young mothers is a powerful way for new moms to feel less alone and find a community of people who understand their experience.
Michael said that, although many organizations offer home visiting services, Christopher House is unique in its connection to high-quality childcare.
“One of the biggest jumps out there in the early stage of being a parent is going from a new mom to reestablishing your life again by going back to work or school,” he explained. “In many programs, there is a gap between home visiting programs and getting childcare…you have the support from your home visiting program but it’s on you to get childcare. With Christopher House, we come in and share that our applications for early childcare are opening up, and we do the application together.”
Children can enroll in Christopher House’s Infant & Pre-School when they are as young as six weeks old. The Infant & Pre-School is one of the best early childhood options in the city, offering continuity of care—children stay in the same classroom with the same teacher for the first three years—and three teachers per classroom. With our recent expansion, scholars can begin with Christopher House as infants and receive education and support services through the eighth grade.
Christopher House is set apart by its two-generation approach, which ensures that both the children and the parents are supported through education, resources, and personalized support. Through TAPPS, teen moms can access the education and resources they need and connect their children to high-quality childcare so they can move on to the next career or education opportunity.
“TAPPS is a front door to the community. We meet you where you’re at with the hope to get you connected with all the resources at Christopher House. We can be that first step for you to continue on your journey as a parent and your journey with Christopher House.”
Our services are free—if you or someone you know could use a doula or parent educator, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Christopher House provides education and resources to more than 4,100 low-income individuals in the Belmont Cragin, Logan Square and Uptown neighborhoods of Chicago. Christopher House partners with families, including teenage and single-parent households, to provide education for students and tools for parents to foster self-sufficiency. The ultimate vision of Christopher House is to create and implement a national model to help low-income, at-risk children and their families achieve success in school, the workplace, and life.