Youth Advocate Marianne Felice Makes the "Worcester Teen - Tot Connection"

November 22, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass.- For Marianne Felice, MD, chair of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and pediatrician-in-chief of the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center, adolescent pregnancy is not an anathema but an opportunity - an opportunity to better the lives of both teen parents and their offspring.

Serving the adolescent patient community is nothing new for Felice. For twenty-eight years, she has studied, taught, researched, and clinically served the needs of adolescents. Felice is now putting her expertise in adolescent medicine to work in Worcester through the creation of "The Worcester Teen - Tot Connection," an innovative program designed to reduce repeat births to teen mothers for at least two years after the first birth. "The need for such a program is compelling," said Felice. "Without intervention, between 20 and 25 percent of all first-time adolescent mothers have a second child within two years of their first delivery. Repeat births to teens have higher rates of serious problems than the first birth, including low birthweight babies, premature and stillborn infants, and a rate of infant mortality nine times greater than that of first-born infants. For the mother too, there are unfavorable educational and economic outcomes. A teen with two children is more likely to drop out of school and go on welfare than a teen with one child," Felice added.

Additional goals for the program include maximizing the immunization rate of infants, helping young mothers return to school and graduate, and assisting young fathers in becoming more involved with their children.

To achieve these goals, Felice is coordinating the services of several organizations in Worcester. She augmented the Teen Age Pregnancy Clinic currently in place at the UMass Memorial Center for Women and Children with a "Teen Tot Clinic" which provides comprehensive "one stop shopping" healthcare services for the adolescent mother and her infant. Moreover, the Teen Tot Clinic sessions will include "after school" hours so that the mothers will not miss school.

Historically, the needs and roles of teen fathers have been ignored by service organizations. However, as Felice stated, "Research strongly indicates the need to include young fathers in adolescent pregnancy and parenting programs. Parenting skills of young fathers are typically limited, and they often have high or unrealistic expectations of their offspring. This places them at high risk for child abuse or neglect. They also often come from poor families and are educationally disadvantaged. Job training is an essential component of services to these young men." The "Fathers Outreach Program" component of the Teen - Tot Connection will feature parenting classes, job training, and support groups at The Worcester Youth Center, which serves over 350 youths annually and approximately 100 daily. Nearly 40 percent of the young men visiting the Center are fathers.

Pregnant and parenting teens who wish to continue their education can participate in The School Age Mothers Program, a joint venture of the Worcester Public School System and Children's Friend, a child advocacy agency. This program enables teen mothers to attend classes while their children are taken care of in an on-site day care center.

"The Worcester Teen - Tot Connection" was made possible through a large, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Obtaining grants such as this is a high priority for Felice. In fact, since she became chair of pediatrics two years ago, the number of grant proposals submitted by the department has increased dramatically. But, as Felice explains "Not all programs are fundable by grants. To support a spectrum of pediatric treatment and research programs, UMass Memorial has created the "STAR Fund." 'STAR' stands for "Supporting Treatment And Research" for children." The STAR Fund will provide financial assistance to programs within each area of the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center, including research endeavors at UMass Medical School and clinical services provided by the faculty and staff of the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center.

"Our goal is to offer the children of central Massachusetts the most comprehensive medical care possible, and to continue to conduct research that puts us at the forefront of emerging technologies. Because a contribution to The STAR Fund supports treatment and research that benefit the entire Children's Medical Center, every patient, from infants to adolescents, can benefit," said Felice.

Contributions to the STAR Fund are accepted through the UMass Memorial Foundation.

UMass Memorial Health Care is the largest health care system in central Massachusetts, with 1,700 physicians and over 10,000 employees. Its comprehensive network of care includes teaching hospitals, community hospitals, outpatient clinics, community-based physician practices, long-term care facilities, and home health, promoting health and wellness in the community and is proud to be the clinical partner of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

UMass Memorial member hospitals include UMass Memorial Medical Center (Memorial Campus, University Campus, Hahnemann Campus), Clinton Hospital, HealthAlliance Hospitals (Burbank Campus, Leominster Campus), Marlborough Hospital, and Wing Memorial Hospital and Medical Centers. UMass Memorial affiliated hospitals include Athol Memorial Hospital, Berkshire Medical Center, Day Kimball Hospital, Harrington Memorial Hospital, Heywood Hospital, Holyoke Hospital, Hubbard Regional Hospital, Milford-Whitinsville Regional Hospital, and Noble Hospital.