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Teen pregnancy still a problem in Kershaw County

Kershaw County Teen Health Promotion Coalition loses funding, sex education to fall on FRC

Posted: September 1, 2010 10:03 a.m.
Updated: September 1, 2010 9:59 a.m.

Every 49 minutes a teenager in South Carolina becomes pregnant.

In 2007, 143 girls between the ages 10 and 19 became pregnant in Kershaw County -- 59 of them in the Lugoff-Elgin area. The rate of teen pregnancy in Kershaw decreased 26 percent from 1997 to 2003, but stayed the same from 2004 to 2007, according to the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

While the rate of teenage pregnancy has declined over the years, it is still an issue concerning the county and the state, especially considering the costs associated with it.

Each year, child-bearing teens cost Kershaw County taxpayers about $2.3 million. The cost to the state is approximately $156 million, according to the Tell Them! Grassroots e-Advocacy Network.

“We have to educate teens that abstinence first is the best choice, but also give them information about contraceptives,” said Caroline Humphries, former program director for the Kershaw County Teen Health Promotion Coalition (KCTHPC).

The Coalition, previously partnered with United Way, worked with teenagers in the county and provided them with information and education about sexual health, and also held workshops for parents in the area. Because the state Department of Social Services (DSS) had to cut funding for the program, it no longer stands on its own.

As a result, the Family Resource Center will be picking up most of the responsibilities of educating young people in Kershaw County about sexual health.

Mornique Dozier, the chairperson for the Family Resource Center Board, said that while initially she was concerned about the extra work load, she thinks the Family Resource Center will be a good fit to provide the educational services.

“Some of our services overlapped with the coalition,” she said, “and this transition may open up doors in the future for more funding for the Family Resource Center.”

Though the closing of the Coalition is discouraging to Humphries, she knows the campaign has made a difference.

“It’s very disheartening because even though the rates have declined over 20 percent since 1994 in Kershaw County, we’ve made a lot of really good progress. But at the same time we still have a long way to go,” Humphries said.

While the rates for girls between 10 and 17 have decreased, pregnancy among women 18-19 is only getting worse.
The older group of teenagers are known in the campaign as the “population left behind,” Humphries said.

“We’ve seen a huge decrease for the 15 to 17 year-olds, but when you look at the 18 and 19 year-olds their rates just continue to rise,” Humphries said. “I think there’s some normalcy to it (18-19 year-old pregnancy), that a lot of the 18 and 19 year-olds don’t think that it’s a problem to have a baby at that age. And there’s some acceptance of that in the community.”

The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is still working on the issue, however, and continues to work in all 46 counties to prevent adolescent pregnancy through education, public awareness, technical assistance, advocacy and research.

“Moving forward, the Campaign has created concrete goals that will guide future teen pregnancy prevention efforts in South Carolina and ultimately get us back to the positive trends and reducing rates that we experienced just a few short years ago,” Cayci Banks, director of communications, said.

These goals ensure South Carolina teens have access to prevention programs and services, public high-schools are delivering age-appropriate sexual health programs, adolescents that are sexually active have access to birth control forms, and parents and trusted adults are having open conversations with teens about love, sex and relationships.

Not only do pregnant teens cost the state money, there are several negative consequences of becoming a teen parent.
Teen mothers have higher rates of infant mortality and low birth rates than mothers in their 20s. Only 40 percent of teen mothers ever finish high school, and they are more likely to live on public assistance.

“Children of teen mothers are less prepared to enter the school system and score lower on measures of school readiness,” Banks said. “Children of teen mothers are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, less likely to complete high school, and have lower performance on standardized tests.”

According to Humphries, 52 percent of high schoolers are sexually active, so the need for abstinence programs is clear. However, a need for health services is always necessary, since latex condoms aid in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

State reinvestment in teen pregnancy prevention is essential, especially since pregnancy rates have decreased during the life of state-funded programs.

“As a community and as a state, we must recommit ourselves to our most valuable resource…our children,” Banks said. “This is not a time to eliminate programs for teen pregnancy prevention -- it is a time to reinvest in the programs that research has shown to be effective.”

Teen pregnancy prevention programs need money and resources from the state to thrive, but community input is also vital. Humphries encourages parents and adults to encourage teenagers to make good decisions, whether it involves sexual health or overall wellness.

“I think the more we can get the community interested in mentoring and helping the youth get involved, we can do great things and keep on decreasing the rate of teen pregnancy,” Humphries said.

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