Government plans to force teenage mothers to go into supervised homes will leave them vulnerable and unlikely to continue with their education, teachers running specialist services for young parents have warned.
Those who run pupil referral units for teen mums have reacted with concern at Gordon Brown's plans to stop 16 and 17-year-olds getting "council flats" and instead place them in shared accommodation where they would "learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly".
Any element of compulsion to the scheme would damage the "hearts and minds" operation currently underway to ensure more teens with babies stay on in education, according to the teachers.
They believe housing is a major issue for those forced to live on their own, but any coercion would condemn the scheme to failure.
"It cannot be right, for a girl of 16, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own," Mr Brown told the Labour Party conference on Tuesday.
"From now on all 16 and 17-year-old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly."
But Carol Bowery, who runs The Meriton, a PRU for young mums in Bristol, said there were "many issues" with the policy which need to be resolved.
"The Government needs to remember every teenage parent is different. If there is a compulsory element to this it won't work because they won't want to be involved," she said.
"We are concerned this might be a punitive measure and I'm worried about the moralising tone Gordon Brown used. Young mums already know what everyone thinks about them, and much of this is unfair and based on no experience."
Supervised accommodation already exists for teenage parents, but on a very small scale. In cities such as Bristol a scheme that links them with families has been a success.
Few 16 and 17-year-olds now live on their own, according to teachers. More now have the support of their families. Parents under the age of 19 now get free childcare if they are in training or education. Teachers say this has had the biggest impact on improving their lives and are calling for an expansion of specialist PRUs.
"Unless the hearts and minds of teenage parents are won over the Government won't be able to get anything done," said Jenny Adamson, who runs Coteland's PRU in Croydon.
Brown's teen talk was the mother of all bad ideas
By Adi Bloom
Damn. If only I'd known how easy it was. Instead of working hard at school, going to university, finding a job, I should have got pregnant. Bingo. Council flat on demand.
Yes, I'd have had a baby. I may never have made it to sixth form, let alone university. I'd certainly have waved goodbye to a social life, to any semblance of youth. But, hey. Council flat on demand.
Does anyone really believe teenage girls think like this?
Gordon Brown apparently does. This week, he told the Labour party conference that teenage mothers will no longer be given council flats. Instead, they will be put into special homes, forced to sign behaviour pledges and taught to be good parents.
Obviously, any attempt to improve the lives of teenage mothers should be welcomed. But that is not what this is about.
That becomes clear as soon as one notices the factual flaws: under-18s are not allowed to hold council tenancies, anyway. So teenage mothers who do not live with their parents are already given supported accommodation by local authorities.
It is even more clear when one factors in the double-standards. It takes two teenagers to make a baby. While teenage mothers are forced to live by behaviour pledges, teenage fathers are presumably out drinking snakebite and impregnating more would-be wards of the state.
This proposal is actually about our deep-rooted desire to ignore the real problem of teenage parenthood: our own culpability.
Teenage boys' sexuality is regularly celebrated: a host of American Pie- style films do just that. Teenage girls' sexuality, on the other hand, terrifies us. Those girls who bear visible proof of their sexuality - a baby - make us so uncomfortable that we want to shut them out of sight.
Teenage girls get pregnant for a range of reasons. They may lack educational ambition; they may see motherhood as a way to achieve the approbation that has so far proven elusive. They may be desperate for unconditional love. These are the problems that we - and Gordon Brown - should be addressing.