Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
It’s a sunny yellow house with a wreath on the door. Inside, the Arlington home is spacious, clean and — for now — quiet. It won’t be quiet for long.
Soon, babies will cry at all hours. Teens will change diapers, and learn about their new responsibilities as mothers. In time, toddlers will use a playroom and join in family-style meals.
On Thursday, the new Cocoon House Maternity Group Home hosted an open house. Its first residents moved in earlier this week. Along with around-the-clock staff, the facility now houses two pregnant teens.
Samantha, a 15-year-old from the Bothell-Mill Creek area, is one of them. Since August, she has worked with Cocoon House case manager Heather Struckman, now the home’s site manager. Samantha’s baby is due Dec. 27.
“For me, this makes it possible to parent,” Samantha said Thursday. “I struggled with adoption or keeping my baby. This house makes it possible to keep my daughter.”
Cassie Franklin, CEO of Cocoon House, said the Maternity Group Home was built by the nonprofit agency in 2006. “We used to have an emergency shelter here,” she said.
That facility, Cocoon House East, is now in Monroe. It houses and helps up to eight homeless teens each night.
The Arlington site, in a residential neighborhood not far from Cascade Valley Hospital, is a good fit for the maternity home, Franklin said. “Arlington has wrapped its arms around Cocoon House,” she added.
Leading a home tour Thursday, Franklin showed the bedrooms — each with a single bed, a crib and changing table — that young mothers will share with their babies. Up a broad stairway, protected by baby gates, there are four bedrooms. The main floor has one more bedroom, for use especially by pregnant teens under doctor’s orders on bed rest, or for new moms recovering from a Cesarean section.
In most rooms, a partial wall separates a crib from the mother’s bed, giving mother and baby their own spaces.
The house has a large kitchen and dining area, a playroom stocked with books for tots and teens, a laundry room, a common living room, plus a private visiting lounge where teens may spend time with their families.
“There’s space for five moms and five babies or toddlers,” Franklin said. The young women, ages 13 to 17, can stay up to 21 months.
As mothers, residents may have little in common with other girls their age. Franklin envisions the teen moms sharing their new experiences and building friendships.
There are other maternity facilities for homeless women, but Franklin said this home is the region’s only one serving girls younger than 18. Cocoon House will work with Housing Hope to find the young families transitional housing once the mothers reach adulthood.
Help that wasn’t visible Thursday may be even more valuable than the home’s physical elements. Struckman said mothers will be connected with the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program for young parents run by ChildStrive, the former Little Red School House. “And the little ones will be in Early Head Start,” she said.
Open Arms Perinatal Services, a Seattle nonprofit group, will provide free doula assistance before and during childbirth. Struckman also said teen moms will have access to mental health and substance abuse counseling, life skills training and educational opportunities.
The young women may attend alternative schools, including Arlington’s Weston High School and Crossroads Alternative High School in Granite Falls. Crossroads offers child care, Struckman said. Or they may study online, as Samantha is doing, to earn a diploma or GED. Help will also be available connecting them with community college or jobs, Struckman said.
Births to mothers younger than 18 have declined in recent years, according to the Snohomish Health District’s most recent available statistics. There were 114 births to under-18 moms in Snohomish County in 2011. In 2010 there were 138 such births, in 2009 there were 142, in 2008 there were 168, and in 2007 there were 187.
In those five years, under-18 births dropped from 1.95 percent of all Snohomish County births in 2007 to 1.28 percent of all births in 2011.
Individuals are what matter at the Maternity Group Home.
“It’s an overwhelming situation for a young person,” Franklin said. Teens will learn to be mothers, but they won’t have to do that alone.
“Here, they can finish up childhood,” Franklin said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Cocoon House programs for area teens: www.cocoonhouse.org/index