A virtually century-old maternity house for teenagers within the South makes plans for enlargement
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An outdated, brick home in Charleston’s Wagener Terrace district stands out from its gentrified neighbors in a number of methods: It’s 14,000 sq. ft, constructed to accommodate round 30 individuals, and was constructed 90 years in the past to offer shelter for pregnant ladies.

It nonetheless does simply that. Pregnant youngsters with few choices, typically escaping harmful residing conditions, come right here to remain, give start at a close-by hospital, after which return to the house to discover ways to increase an toddler. In current years, these ladies have been as younger as 12. They are sometimes victims of sexual abuse.

The constructing is a vestige of a unique period, and the nonprofit house’s mission harkens again to an earlier time, too, when intercourse outdoors marriage was extra stigmatized and entry to contraception and abortion had been arduous to come back by. Charleston has modified in dramatic methods this previous century, however the home run by the Florence Crittenton Programs of South Carolina basically serves the identical function — one which will show more and more essential within the post-Roe v. Wade South.

Across the area, the current Supreme Court ruling on abortion might result in increased numbers of pregnancies amongst youngsters and will very effectively have an effect on the demand for maternity houses just like the one in Charleston.

Relatively few such maternity houses stay within the United States. As contraception and abortion turned broadly accessible throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the demand for these houses declined alongside the teenager start fee, mentioned Ann Fessler, who wrote the 2006 e book “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade.”

In South Carolina alone, greater than 3,800 ladies ages 10 to 17 gave start in 1990, in accordance with data saved by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. By 2020, that quantity had dropped to 784.

But that downward pattern will probably reverse within the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization resolution final month. Hundreds of women and girls below age 20 acquired abortions in South Carolina in 2020. It stands to cause the variety of infants born to teenage moms within the state will develop if the process turns into unlawful — a choice into account by the South Carolina Legislature.

The Supreme Court ruling raises many questions. Cheryl O’Donnell, government director of the Florence Crittenton group in Charleston, does not but have solutions. “Do we anticipate a surge in the number of people seeking our assistance?” requested O’Donnell. “And who do we think are going to be the people seeking our assistance?”

“In South Carolina, we are the only maternity group home that serves young women under the age of 18,” she added. “When you start looking at minors, we’re the only resource for them, and we serve the entire state. But obviously, we are only one building.”

These days, the home is not often full. It can accommodate 31 shoppers, however on a current afternoon in Charleston, O’Donnell mentioned solely eight youngsters had been residing below the Florence Crittenton roof — ladies ranging in age from 15 to 18. An 18-year-old residing there, she mentioned, was quickly anticipating her second baby.

In Greenville County, South Carolina, the St. Clare’s Home, run by the Roman Catholic Church, can home as much as six girls and their infants. But it isn’t presently full, both.

Nevertheless, each maternity houses are planning to broaden residential providers to different components of the state.

“There are women out there — lots of women — who are not able to support themselves or their children,” mentioned Valerie Baronkin, government director of St. Clare’s Home. “We are there to be able to help those moms.”

These houses could also be outliers now, however maternity houses was way more frequent. “At the high point, there were about 200 maternity homes across the country,” mentioned Fessler.

The overwhelming majority of them had been run by three organizations: Florence Crittenton, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities. And they principally served white girls. In reality, following World War II, when these houses proliferated, comparatively few provided any providers for Black youngsters.

The Charleston house traces its roots to 1897 when a younger lady tried to kill herself by leaping into the Cooper River. The lady survived, and the incident prompted a gaggle of volunteers to open their houses to single, pregnant girls and moms in want.

The St. Margaret Street location, which opened in 1932, was modeled after the primary Florence Crittenton house in New York City. That facility was based in 1883 by Charles Crittenton, a businessman and evangelist who named it after his daughter who died of scarlet fever at age 4. It was established to serve “fallen women and wayward girls.”

Times have clearly modified since then. That’s why Fessler, for one, does not anticipate the demand for these houses will develop dramatically whilst some states, significantly within the South, transfer to outlaw abortion.

“In the ’50s,’60s, and early ’70s, the shame associated with single pregnancy was intense,” Fessler mentioned. “Women and girls were hidden away so no one knew they were pregnant — and so they could give birth, surrender their child, and then return home with a cover story about taking care of a sick aunt. It was largely a middle-class white phenomenon.”

That is not the case anymore. Today, 70% of the younger girls who transfer into the Florence Crittenton home in Charleston are Black. They usually aren’t looking for refuge from stigma, and so they not often give their infants up for adoption. In reality, since O’Donnell arrived three years in the past, that hasn’t occurred as soon as, she mentioned.

More typically — like Amauree Goss, who was 18 and pregnant when she got here to dwell at Florence Crittenton — these youngsters merely want a protected place to remain.

At the time, she had been residing together with her father in Charleston however wasn’t receiving a lot assist from him. The house they shared was infested with bedbugs. Goss was attending highschool and dealing half time at Krispy Kreme, strolling a lot between house and work and college that she almost went into preterm labor. During her second trimester, she was required to endure an emergency process to briefly sew her cervix closed.

That’s when a former foster father or mother really useful the Florence Crittenton house.

“It was perfect timing,” mentioned Goss, now 21. “I almost lost my son.”

She gave start and left the maternity house when her son was 2 months outdated. The Florence Crittenton house in Charleston permits moms to stick with their infants as much as two years after the start of their youngsters.

Teenagers who’re pregnant are more likely to expertise homelessness than different youngsters, O’Donnell mentioned. “They are bouncing from couch to couch in their — or their friends’ — homes, or they’re living in cars, or they’re living in some other place that is not habitable.”

About 5 years in the past, the South Carolina Department of Social Services abruptly lower greater than $300,000 in annual funding from the Charleston house, threatening its roughly $1 million annual finances. That cash was restored a yr later. The state legislature earmarked an extra $500,000 for the house this finances yr.

That cash will likely be used, partially, to broaden entry to housing for pregnant teenagers throughout the state. The Florence Crittenton group in Charleston does not take an official stance on abortion, however the house would require more room to accommodate a possible inflow of shoppers.

“In the event that there is a huge surge in need, we are licensed to be able to accept 31 individuals, but it would require doubling people and their children up,” O’Donnell mentioned. “That’s really not the type of environment we want to be able to provide them.”

This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially unbiased information service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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