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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pregnancy and early parenting trajectories among young people experiencing street-entrenchment : a qualitative study Charlesworth, Reith


Background: Qualitative research demonstrates that, among youth who use substances in the context of entrenched poverty and homelessness, pregnancy is often viewed as an event that could change the trajectories of their lives. However, young people’s desires and decision-making regarding how to make changes do not always align with the perspectives of various professionals and systems regarding how best to intervene. Methods: This study draws on 14 months of longitudinal qualitative interviews and ethnographic fieldwork with 16 youth (under 29 years of age) to explore how pregnancy and early parenting shaped their trajectories. Eight of the 16 participants self-identified as Indigenous. Findings: The young people who participated in this study described pregnancy as a life event that could stabilize tumultuous romantic relationships and deepen a sense of romantic love in the midst of the everyday emergencies of substance use, homelessness, and poverty. As “moral assemblages,” romantic relationships shaped decision-making surrounding pregnancy and parenting on the streets, including the decision of whether or not to enter treatment. Consistent with previous research, pregnancy was envisioned by youth as a turning point that might allow them to realize different kinds of futures. However, intervention by child protection, healthcare, and criminal justice systems were often at odds with what youth envisioned for themselves, their families, and the future. In particular, interventions that separated young couples were often perceived by youth as destabilizing the very relationships that they felt would allow them to successfully navigate a pregnancy and create a family. Conclusions: This study highlights how a disjuncture between youth’s decision-making surrounding pregnancy and parenting and the systems that are intended to help them can further entrench young parents in cycles of loss, defeat, and harm that can be powerfully racialized. Two young people were not in romantic relationships during their pregnancies and were better able to navigate child protection and healthcare system demands and draw on other kinds of social support to ultimately maintain custody of their children. However, these fragile success stories further underscore the need for structural interventions that provide access to housing and income among vulnerable young parents.

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