By David Liebler.
Being a teenager can be a very complicated and difficult period of life. Add the daunting responsibility and fear of becoming a teen parent and life can seem overbearing. That’s where the Orange County Teen Parent Program comes in – to assist teen parents under the age of 18 through the child-support process while also providing the resources to help them succeed.
Orange County’s Teen Parent Program consists of a team of child-support experts and attorneys dedicated to providing specialized services on a case-by-case basis. And when you meet the county’s team members, their passion and commitment to help these young parents is readily apparent.
The program seeks to not only foster a strong, ongoing relationship between parent and child, but to also ensure there is sustainable child support and long-term success. And by helping create this long-term success, the Teen Parent Program can have a positive impact on generations to come.
“This program meets these young parents in their particular stage of life. Having one point of contact really supports the individual and the individual’s needs,” explains Care Coordinator Leticia Ochoa-Trejo.
While teen-parent cases is a small portion of the department’s overall caseload, supporting this fragile population can have significant long-term positive impacts. “When it benefits (the parent), it benefits the community,” explains Program Attorney Christine Nguyen. “The system of care we provide now has a trickle-down effect on future generations.”
As soon as a child-support case is opened, Ochoa-Trejo makes contact with the parent and introduces them to the program. Contact then takes place at regular intervals throughout the process. By getting to know the teen parents, program staff is able to provide specialized one-on-one assistance uniquely developed to meet their needs.
“In talking with the teens, I learn a lot about what their needs are and tailor the resources accordingly,” says Ochoa-Trejo. This can range from assisting with continuing education or certification programs to linking the young parents to community-based programs that can offer food or housing.
Working closely with the teen parents through the court process is a key element of the program. “This is not a one-size fits all program,” Program Attorney Kristin Chavez says. “We try to give the court all the facts, all the circumstances and any barriers that these families may have. The court can be creative and has discretion to make individualized orders for these families. The court really encourages education and co-parenting.”
The court is very supportive of the program, the attorneys explain. This partnership with the court allows attorneys the opportunity to present the specific circumstances of each family and allows the court to enter an order that is appropriate for the family.
“These cases are treated with priority and that’s really to build long-term success and sustainability,” says Nguyen. “We’re thinking about future generations.”
Care Coordinator Ochoa-Trejo also assists teens with their needs on a case-by-case basis, such as job training, education or housing, by connecting them with community partners or other county agencies. This helps provide a foundation for better parenting and sustainable child support.
In discussions with county staff involved in the program, two words are heard often: trust and relationships. “This program is important because it builds relationships,” explains Ochoa-Trejo. “The department’s vision is to partner with parents. The program supports and educates young new parents and lets them know they are really important to us.”
Chavez agrees. “We want to build trust and relationships early on with these parents so they can come to us when they have any questions or concerns,” she says. “It’s very rewarding to talk to these young parents who are struggling to make it work and see that we can get them to a good place where everyone is working together to benefit the children.”
For Ochoa-Trejo, the teen parent program means hope.
“It makes me hopeful. It’s very rewarding,” she says. “We have an effect on the teen parents and we have an effect on future generations.”
This Orange County program is a recipient of a 2018 CSAC Challenge Award, which spotlights the most innovative programs in county government.