Babies having babies for the bonus
By JENI FAULKNER
HOLLY Wiebenga was 17 when she fell pregnant with baby Bianca and although her pregnancy was somewhat unplanned she wouldn't give up her daughter for the world.
"If I had my time again though I wouldn't have had a baby so young," Holly said.
"At the moment I don't work because I am concentrating on Bianca, but next year I am going to go to TAFE part-time to do Year 12 so I can slowly get back into it."
After giving birth Holly received $800 from the Federal Government but she warns teenage mothers that any Government assistance doesn't last long.
"You hear girls talking about this $3000 baby bonus now, and in many ways I think they become pregnant for the money," she said.
"They need to realise this money isn't going to last. There are nappies, formula and so many other costs, and it just won't last and you are left with a baby to care for."
The words 'teenage pregnancy' spark debate in every community, but it appears Coffs Harbour is leading the race in young mothers.
Youth Liaison Officer with Coffs Harbour police, Senior Constable Sue Kady, said four Coffs Harbour girls aged 14 are currently expecting their first child. She also knows of two others the same age who gave birth just weeks ago.
"Teenage pregnancy has always been an issue here, but it is these 14-year-olds that are the concern," Const. Kady said.
Believing Government benefits are a contributing factor, Ms Kady said young teenagers are given a false pretence that having a baby will change their lifestyle.
"It is a shame these teenagers can't see any other alternative, and others are just bored and having a baby is portrayed as being a wonderful thing ? something to love which will love them back," Ms Kady said"
Const. Kady said her major concerns were for the generation of teenagers that believe a baby will provide them with financial security.
"Generally speaking a teenager at school could get Austudy, about $178 a fortnight but, when they have a baby this will go up to about $700, and that goes without even mentioning the $3000 baby bonus," she said.
"Many think they have won the lottery because they have never had that sort of money in their bank account. It makes their choice about having a baby a lot easier."
Aside from this Const. Kady admitted that young girls do find themselves caught out with unexpected pregnancies and it was these issues that needed to be dealt with more in the community. Like more information about safe sex.
"The community needs to provide a support network for teenagers where they can seek help and support without being scared."
Yet this help is something that could be short-lived for mothers-to-be.
Just four months ago Nambucca Heads High started a Parents in Education program to encourage young mothers to continue their schooling.
Principal Hilton Humphries said the program was hot and cold but, unfortunately, no mothers had returned since giving birth.
"We've had a number of inquiries but I think we need to have more safety in numbers for these girls because a lot of mothers don't find it easy to leave a child at home," Mr Humphries said.
In the Bellinger Valley Vicki Fernance offers the Baby Bump Matters program for parents under the age of 25.
"We offer a day of services for young parents and so far it has been running for three years and we have helped many young parents," Ms Fernance said.
This program is run twice a year and discussions started this week to offer a similar program in Coffs Harbour. It is expected to start next month.
For more information on the Parents in Education program at Nambucca Heads High contact 6568 6777. For Baby Bump Matters phone 6655 0167.