Homeless young women and pregnancy: Pregnancy in hostels for single homeless people

A high incidence of unplanned pregnancy among young women living in homelessness agencies: in a survey of 31 London hostels approximately 24 per cent of young women residents had been pregnant in the previous year. There was also a low rate of abortion relative to other women in a similar age group in inner deprived London, where the rate of abortion for 16 to 19 year-olds is 41.3 per cent. An estimated 76 per cent of young homeless women were going ahead with the pregnancy.

Young homeless women often leave home very young, have an unsettled family background, and have multiple moves. A background of abuse and neglect is common, as is a history of disrupted education and unhappiness at school. Low self-esteem and low expectations among the young women are perceived by the agencies as more relevant than a lack of sex education or poor access to advice and information.

Homelessness agencies for single homeless people are struggling to find an appropriate role in relation to the issue and adopting different approaches. Many homelessness agencies do not accept pregnant women because they are seen as priority homeless. There are a lack of developed policies and a lack of staff training in sexual health promotion. Staff often feel unsupported by managers in addressing the issues. There is limited contact with external agencies offering advice and information and training in sexual health.

Housing departments can be obstructive when hostels for single people are trying to move pregnant women on; demanding that they should go through the courts and get a Notice Seeking Possession. Women are caused considerable stress through uncertainty about housing and long waits in unsuitable environments. There is a general lack of housing options and a need for more supported and appropriate housing for young parents.

Health Promotion Agencies are very variable in their level of contact with the homelessness sector. Some Health Promotion Departments are carrying out high quality work and are very proactive; others have no contact with the homeless sector. • Homeless young women have difficulty in accessing mainstream health, social care and support services. Health visitors play an important role in providing a service in hostels. There is a need for support for young parents who have been homeless that feels accessible and comfortable.

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