Teen pregnancy rising, education lacking

By SpencerRoush

Many girls struggle with teen pregnancy and the consequences of becoming a young mother, especially in low-income neighborhoods. But some state programs are trying to focus money and attention toward teens who are at risk of having another child too soon and dropping out of high school.

It was recently reported by CBS 2 News that Chicago’s South Side Paul Robeson High School has 115 girls who are pregnant or already have a child out of 800 girls who attend the school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, teen pregnancy is not just a local problem—birth rates have been rising during the past three years after more than a decade of decline.

“The most recent data on teen births is that after declining for 15 straight years, they are once again on the increase,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a campaign founded in 1996 to help women. “In fact, we have seen a 5 percent increase from the teen birth rate over the past two years.”

Albert said a teenage girl has a three in 10 chance of becoming pregnant before turning 20. The U.S. also has the highest teen birth rate among all fully industrialized nations.  Albert said this is a major problem that needs to be addressed by schools and parents because pregnant teens are at risk for dropping out of school.

“Less than half of young women who have a child as a teenager ever go on to finish high school, let alone go on to college,” Albert said. “Needless to say in this day and age and this economy, I think most reasonable people would argue that a high school education is the absolute minimum that you need.”

According to Albert, schools and parents need to focus on making sure teen mothers wait to have another child because subsequent pregnancies have also been problematic throughout the country. Illinois even has a specific program dedicated to delaying a second pregnancy.

The Illinois Subsequent Pregnancy Program is a statewide program funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services, which is dedicated to helping teen mothers stay in school and prevent a second unplanned pregnancy.

Pam Mosena, president of Options for Youth, which also runs the Subsequent Pregnancy Program, said they are a small, successful group that has been helping teens in Illinois for 15 years.

“We’ve served 4,000 young mothers in 30 different communities and of those 4,000, only 3 percent have had a repeat pregnancy and 85 percent have stayed in school or graduated,” Mosena said. “Those outcomes are very good compared to other programs.”

Mosena said there are seven communities where teens can get help through the program, including Englewood, Ravenswood and Evanston. Teens have access to all seven locations, but there are currently waiting lists for them to receive the program’s services.

There are only three Chicago Public Schools where the program is available, Curie Metropolitan, Bogan Computer Technical and Orr Academy High Schools. Mosena said they cannot implement the program in more schools because of a lack of funding. However, the small program has been highly successful, according to a March evaluation of the program.

“[Illinois Subsequent Pregnancy Program] has the lowest rates of repeat pregnancy for most of the other teen programs in the country,” Mosena said. “Our rate of high school graduation for those 19 and above [who are] eligible to graduate was twice the national average for parenting teens.”

Mosena said that last year at Curie Metropolitan High School, all of the teenage mothers they helped graduated and at Orr Acadamy High School, 69 percent graduated. She said even though they are successful, many people don’t know about the program.

According to Mosena, teens will continue to get pregnant and be at risk of dropping out of school if their parents and teachers fail to provide information about sex and forms of  contraception.

Soo Ji Min, executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, an organization that advocates for policies to promote sexual health and education among teens, said No Child Left Behind is the culprit for eliminating sexual education in schools. She said the lack of information in the schools led to the increase in teen pregnancies.

“It’s training for the teachers that’s an issue,  so unless we can do something about No Child Left Behind, we’re not going to be able to address how we need to change the way the teachers are trained as far as sexual education is concerned,” Ji Min said.

Mosena said schools are teaching students about abstinence and not giving them the resources to know about sex and protection from STDs. That’s why teens are getting pregnant, she said.

“We’re not giving them any information about how to protect themselves,” Mosena said. “For such a long time, the money has gone to abstinence only and we promote abstinence.  Abstinence is the best lifestyle, but if you deny the young people the knowledge and information, then they’re going to get pregnant.”