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York professors partner with community agencies to find gaps in research and services for teen pregnancy

York professors partner with community agencies to find gaps in research and services for teen pregnancy

Until psychology Professor Jennifer Connolly began synthesizing information about teen pregnancy and teen mothers through a ResearchImpact Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) grant, she hadn’t realized that those youth who had dealings with youth protection services or the justice system were at increased risk of pregnancy compared to the general population.

The other area of high risk for pregnancy is youth from Aboriginal communities in northern Ontario.

“As we read and summarized and synthesized research literature, and talked to youth workers, we realized there were these specific groups,” says Connolly, director of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution. “With that kind of feedback our research becomes focused and we can shift the lens to these three groups, for instance.”

That is the value of knowledge mobilization – the ability to see the gaps in the research and to more accurately zoom in where there is a need.

Right: Jennifer Connolly

The initial goal of Connolly’s KMb project, “Teen Pregnancy and Teen Mothers: Meeting the Needs in York Region”, was to examine the prevalence of pregnant teens and teen mothers in York Region and how their mental health needs were being met,  and it identify service gaps. The project also reviewed those girls receiving protective service intervention from York Region Children’s Aid Society to evaluate their risk for pregnancy and initiated community-based opportunities for feedback and knowledge exchange. In addition, the project was designed to help determine how research on risk and resilience can inform clinical care, maximize positive outcomes and point the way for areas of further research.

“It led us to recognize that teen pregnancy was in the low to moderate range in Canada; about three to four per cent of live births are to women 19 and younger," says Connolly, a psychology professor in the Faculty of Health. It used to be higher. In the United States, it’s up around 18 per cent and in Italy it’s down around one per cent. "Teen pregnancy has certainly dropped in Canada, but when we look at the data, it ignores the fact that there are huge disparities in that information. In some communities the risk of teen pregnancy and motherhood is much higher.”

For teen girls in the three highest risk categories, the rate of pregnancy soars to 30 to 50 per cent, and the teen pregnancy and motherhood outcomes in these groups are not good.

The research team – Connolly, York Professor Hala Tamim of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, psychology Professor Yvonne Bohr also of the Faculty of Health, Sandra Cunning of Kinark Child & Family Services and Bonita Majonis of York Region Children’s Aid Society – realized the value of getting the results from research and knowledge synthesization out to community members who could make use of them.

One such community would be the youth workers and service agencies that work directly with these teens. This summer, Connolly, along with colleagues and students, will post plain language research summaries on 11 different topics using the Orion 03 platform, thanks to a Canadian Institutes of Health Research supplement grant. This is part of a research mobilization project headed by David Phipps, director of the Office of Research Services, to get clear, concise summaries of research out to communities.

For Connolly’s research, youth workers from Kinark Child & Family Services and the York Region Children’s Aid Society will comment on the summaries and bring forth any questions.

The topics that will be tackled for the summaries will include homelessness and teen pregnancy and mothers; the risk and resilience of teen mothers; the risk and resilience of the mothers of teen mothers; teen pregnancy and teen motherhood in Canada; and the availability of services for teen mothers in York Region.

It will allow Connolly and Phipps to take a closer look at how synthesized research can help those using the information in the community. It’s a way to evaluate how well knowledge mobilization works, Conolly says. She is hoping the project will point to specific areas where more research is needed. “The kind of questions we will ask in future research will be shaped by the real world.”

More information about Connolly's research is available on the ResearchImpact blog.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.