Partnering for Equal Access to Parenting Services for Chicago Families

The ConnecTeen Program Helps Vulnerable Pregnant and Parenting Teens on Chicago’s West Side

Social determinants of health, including income, education, employment, housing, and food access, contribute to overall health outcomes, but often, resources are not equally distributed across communities that are in need. In Chicago, 25% of Black women do not get adequate prenatal care compared with 11% of white women.1, 2, 3 Black women who grow up in low-income neighborhoods in Cook County also have babies with low birth weights more often than their Black peers with lifelong residence in high-income neighborhoods.2 

To help support pregnant and parenting teens in Chicago, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago Foundation launched the ConnecTeen Program in 2018. The program is part of its Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Health Communities hub for community-focused initiatives.

Through ConnecTeen, schools, hospitals, and others in the community can contact the program to understand what services are available based on the teen's needs and initiate a referral to an appropriate home visiting program for support.

Home visits help expecting parents bond with a baby before birth, coach parents on practical skills to raise a family, and can refer families to other needed services to help children be physically, socially, and emotionally healthy as they grow up. 

"There are so many wonderful home visiting programs provided by our 22 partner organizations, but it can be hard to keep track of the details for each one as programs change or reach capacity," said Liz Gonzalez, ConnecTeen Program Coordinator. "I'm so happy each time I get to be the go-to person for a school or hospital to help a teen mom or dad find the right program for them."

But, sometimes this support can take a few weeks or months to line up and ConnecTeen wanted to close the gap.

Baxter provided a one-year grant to the ConnecTeen program aligned with the company’s Activating Change Today (ACT) initiative to advance racial justice. Funding enabled the ConnecTeen program to add a home visitor to their staff to provide short-term support before families join longer-term programs. A home visitor is someone specially trained to come into the teen’s home to provide education and support to help young families.

"Having started my career as a home visitor, I have personally seen the impact these programs can have in directly helping meet the needs of parents and children," said Katelyn Kanwischer, ConnecTeen Program Director. "We are excited to bring a new home visitor to our team to help us reach more families in Chicago seeking help."

In addition to referring teens to their programs, the ConnecTeen Program also offers opportunities for partner organizations to support one another.

"The ConnecTeen Program provides such a welcome space to organizations like ours working to help families grow," said Talibah Floyed who supervises the doula program at Family Focus Englewood. "Not only have we been able to help several teens in our community that the ConnecTeen team referred to us, but we also benefit from the resources shared with us and online forums where we hear from other organizations in Chicago about how they are running their programs."