“I was a 16-year-old mum, and I know how much they need our support.”

Traditionally, my story is not glamorous, my story challenges people and the truth of it is, that some often prefer not to hear it.

But this is my story, and that of some 22,000 young women every year – possibly our most excluded in our nation: Pregnant and parenting teens.

I’ll never forget the night my dad screamed out, at the top of his lungs to the whole of suburban Melbourne, that his 16-year-old daughter had sex and now was pregnant. My mum couldn’t walk for six weeks – we thought she had MS – because of the shock of my pregnancy.

Scared and very alone, I went to Mr Sheil, my Year 10 Year Level Coordinator. I thought he was 130 years old at the time, but in reality he was probably only 25! He felt like a safe place though. I told him what happened, he took my hand, stared me in the eye and said, “The journey might be different now, but the destination can stay the same”.

Bernadette and her son, Damien. Image supplied.  

My, how I needed those words.

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As a new mother, still recovering from the birth, I caught the bus with my newborn, overwhelmed, I’d hardly held a baby and no one told me how to pack a nappy bag.

I wondered how I might get the pram and bags onto the bus. The driver looked down at me and said something shocking, while a busload of people watched me stumble up the stairs, carrying my pram and bags. I tried hard not to cry. My destination was the local adult education centre, where I hoped to finish secondary school. Creating a pathway to education was like climbing Mt Everest.

I founded Brave Foundation in 2009, the charity I looked for but couldn’t find.

And my, what a journey it has been, starting as a Registered Nurse with the book 'How to start a Not for Profit for Dummies,' a very passionate lady, and a mate, to now having seven skills mixed directors, including a former Premier, Lawyer of the Year and Director from an ASX top 5 company.

Bernadette and her son, Damien. Image supplied.

The 10-year-overnight- success journey has been enormous, completed with a whole lot of learning, including Business and Governance studies. I know that only passion and my sense of justice and inclusion could see me arrive at such destinations.

Bernadette and her family. Image supplied.

The truth is that 80 per cent of teen parents are on long term welfare, costing our government $2.1 billion per year, with only five per cent finishing secondary school.

No longer and not on my watch, and over the last seven years, not on the watch of the charity that I have founded. Until now there has never been a national coordinated (and implemented) pathway plan for the pregnant or parenting teen to be able to finish their education. Now there will be.

I will continue consultation with the federal government and see pathways implemented where they haven’t existed before. Our satellite communities and digital strategy will ensure those most excluded will be included and women, given the opportunities that they have always deserved.

"The truth is that 80 per cent of teen parents are on long term welfare, with only 5% finishing secondary school." Image supplied.

Remember: this could be your daughter, the girl that lives in your street, your mother, the girl those shops at your local Woollies.

As a 16-year-old pregnant girl, I dreamed of a day when someone would smile at a parenting teen first. Australia, we are on our way!

Make no mistake about it.

Brave Foundation is an Australian not-for-profit charity that equips those experiencing teenage
pregnancy and parenting with resources, referral and education opportunities to facilitate
happy, healthy and skilled families over time.

As a Finalist in the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year Awards, CEO Bernadette Black won the state award in Tasmania and presented this article as her speech. 

Struggling as a new mum of any age? Watch these ten tips for new mothers.

Video via Lindsay Jay

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