Motherhood that brings life of financial struggle: Mary Braid meets a schoolgirl who dismisses claims of having a baby to get a flat

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The Independent Online
A YEAR AGO Tracey Walton's teachers believed she was destined for university. This week she is bringing up her baby in a home for teenage mothers.

Tracey became pregnant with Chelsea, now four months, when she was just 14. The father was Kirk, the boy the same age who lived in the flat next door.

'I wasn't having sex because of peer group pressure,' she said yesterday. 'And I didn't get pregnant to get a house of my own. I had sex because I was in love.

'We weren't using contraception but I wasn't exactly well-informed. The only sex education we had at school was a talk about periods and hygiene. We did reproductive biology in first year but it was very scientific, nothing about feelings or contraceptives. I did not go to my GP because I thought he would tell my mum.'

The pregnancy was a mistake but Tracey was determined to keep the baby. 'My mum was very upset when she found out. I am her only child. She is only 34 and she brought me up on her own. I suppose she knew how hard it would be.'

Pregnancy has not ended her academic career - yet. She attends Northfield, a special education unit in south Birmingham for pregnant schoolgirls. The local authority provides child minders and creche places. Tracey is still taking nine GCSEs. She passed human biology early, four days before Chelsea was born.

Yesterday Tracey was angry about the stated goals of Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, in tackling single parenthood. 'There was no incentive for me to become a single parent. In fact none of the girls at the unit got pregnant to get a house - almost everyone still lives with their families.'

Until last month Tracey and Chelsea also lived at home but she could not make ends meet on pounds 10 a week child benefit and pounds 6 single parent allowance. By moving into the mother and baby home Tracey increased her benefits to pounds 68. She now spends weekdays in the home and goes back to her mother at weekends. Unusually, Kirk is still around. He visits every day.

'Even here it is a struggle to buy everything that Chelsea and I need but it's better than my mum trying to provide everything when she is already struggling.

'The Government's idea of single parents' parents providing more is rubbish. My mum and Kirk's are single parents themselves. They already give what they can but they are not well off.'

When she is 16 next month, Tracey will be able to draw pounds 70 a week even if living at home. But when she completes her GCSEs the compulsory part of her education will end and child care support will be withdrawn.

'I know a girl with a baby who is trying to return to lower sixth but she cannot afford the pounds 15-a-week bus fares. She gets no financial help and will probably have to give up. Most of the older girls I know want to work or go to college but cannot get child care. I still want to go to university but without child care it would be impossible.'

Northfield featured in the recent World in Action documentary 'Children Having Children' which concluded ignorance had more to do with teenage pregnancies than desire for a council flat.

'The vast majority of the girls here have not had babies intentionally,' Anthea Owen, the unit's head, said. 'It is the sex education they haven't had which appears to be most crucial.'