Investigating the influences of social context and structure on young people’s parenting experiences (Young Parents Study)

(2013 – 2019; CIHR)

Principal Investigator(s): Jean Shoveller
Co-Investigator(s): Kora DeBeck; Joy Johnson; Kim McGrail; Heather Peters; Kate Shannon

In 2009, approximately one of six children born in British Columbia (BC) was born to an early-age mother (<25 years of age), with a total of 1,430 live births recorded among mothers younger than 20 years old (an additional 6,201 births occurred in 20-24 year olds). Although overall rates of early-age motherhood have declined during the past three decades, young people who are engaged in parenting (e.g., young women and men ages 15-25 years) continue to face significant health and social challenges in light of social and structural inequalities. Many interventions intended to address the needs of young parents focus on individual-level factors (e.g., enhancing knowledge regarding parenting). While these are important, they do not adequately account for the influence of social context (e.g., ageist social relations that stereotype young parents and their children; gendered power relations) and structural inequalities (e.g., unemployment or income generation opportunities; poverty). Thus, the Young Parents Study aims to:

1. Examine the experiences of a cohort of young parents (ages 15-24 years at the time of recruitment) in relation to policy and programming interventions, including those directed at their sexual and reproductive health.
H1.1: Mothers’ and fathers’ experiences with health and social service delivery and policy interventions differ according to the ways in which power relations intersect with their social positions and geographic locations.
H1.2: Power relations amongst mothers and fathers differ across subgroups of the early-age parent population, with elevated power differentials amongst those who are socially-excluded, street-engaged young people as well as racialized youth, including youth who identify as Aboriginal and/or who use illicit drugs.

2. Examine the perspectives of service providers, decision makers and community leaders regarding service delivery and policy interventions to address the needs of young parents and their children.
H2.1: Rural and urban perspectives of service providers, decision makers and community leaders differ, particularly in the ways in which they describe the impacts of physical geography and local social norms and mores on the implementation and uptake of program/policy interventions.
H2.2: The perspectives of service providers, decision makers and community leaders regarding their capacity to tailor their efforts to address the needs of young parents vary according to the perceived effectiveness of linkages between the health system and other relevant sectors (e.g., child and family services; education; housing).

3. Evaluate how young parents’ knowledge, beliefs and practices are influenced by structural factors, including programs/policies.
H3.1: Withdrawals or reductions in program/policy offerings for young parents (e.g., ageing out) are associated with increases in self-reported concerns and problems pertaining to their health and that of their children.
H3.2: System-wide program/policy initiatives to address the needs of vulnerable first-time mothers (<25 years of age) and their children (e.g., BC Ministry of Health’s new Nurse Family Partnership Initiative) are associated with changes in young parents’ knowledge, beliefs and practices, although these changes may differ depending on various factors, including: mothers’ age, cultural identity and geographic location.

The five-year study uses longitudinal ethnographic methods (fieldwork; interviews), complemented by policy analysis techniques, to capture and track over time the parenting experiences of a cohort of young people (ages 15-24 years). The study incorporates the perspectives of key disadvantaged subgroups (e.g., those who are socially-excluded, drug-using, and/or racialized). The study includes ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with 150 young mothers living in Prince George, Quesnel or Vancouver (British Columbia), as well as socially significant participants in young mothers lives (e.g., biological fathers of young mothers’ children; step-parents; grandparents). The research examines the experiences of service providers and community leaders (n=60) who undertake and/or support many interventions to address early-age parenthood in the face of important structural inequities (e.g., levels of unemployment and poverty). We also examine the policy discourses underlying the programming and policy interventions that affect early-age mothers and fathers in BC by examining policy documents (released since 2000) that are relevant to early-age parents in BC.

Total: $604,310



O’Brien, H.L., Greyson, D.L., Chabot, C., & Shoveller, J. (2018). Young Parents’ Personal and Social Information Contexts for Child Feeding Practices: An Ethnographic Study in British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Documentation.

Greyson, D. (2018). Information triangulation: A complex and agentic everyday information practice. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology.

Greyson D., O’Brien H., Shoveller JA. (2017). Constructing Knowledge and Ignorance in the Social Information Worlds of Young Mothers. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science & Technology.

Greyson, D. (2017). Health information practices of young parents. Journal of Documentation, 73(5): 778-802.

Greyson D., O’Brien H., Shoveller JA. (2017). Information World Mapping: A Participatory Arts-Based Elicitation Method for Information Behavior Interviews. Library and Information Science Research, 39(2): 149-157. doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2017.03.003.

Carson, A., Chabot, C., Greyson, D., Shannon, K., Duff, P. & Shoveller, J. (2016). A narrative analysis of the birth stories of early-age mothers. Sociology of Health and Illness, 39(6): 816-831. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12518.



Childcare Access and Affordability Issues for Young Parents in Two British Columbian Communities (Shoveller et al., 2017)

Young Parents’ Housing Experiences in Two Communities in British Columbia (Shoveller et al., 2017)

Online Safety and Young Parents (Greyson et al., 2017)



“When I Was Having My Baby”: Learning from Young Mothers’ Birth Stories (Summary)

A Place to Call Home: Young Parents’ Experiences with Housing in Greater Vancouver

Searching for a Place to Call Home: Greater Vancouver Housing Fact sheet



HELP Chapbook



Young Parents Study Annual Update – Year One

Young Parents Study Annual Update – Year Two

Young Parents Study Annual Update – Year Three

Young Parents Study Annual Update – Year Four