An Investment with a Guaranteed Return

Forrest Alton

There are few investment opportunities, especially in the current time, that guarantee a return. An investment in young people and teen pregnancy prevention can do exactly that.

It
is extremely difficult to turn on the radio, watch your television, or walk
down the street these days without hearing someone talk about the swine
flu.  Sixteen confirmed cases in South
Carolina have been enough to create an absolute media frenzy. Granted, swine
flu is an issue that deserves our attention, along with economic recovery
efforts and corporate bailouts, just to name a few.

Yet,
in comparison, the more than 10,000 teen girls who get pregnant in our state
each year barely get mentioned.

It
stands to reason that full media saturation of the aforementioned topics
elevates their position on the general public’s radar screen, certainly higher
than presumably inconsequential social issues like say, teen pregnancy.  Oddly enough the prevention of teen pregnancy
has more in common with economic recovery, corporate bailouts and the swine flu
than one might predict.  There is a tie
that binds the proposed solutions to all of these matters: investment.  Yes, times are tough and convincing people to
increase their investments in any place, on any level, seems a bit
counterintuitive.   Yet, consider the
following solutions that have been offered in response to some of the "challenges
du jour." 

President
Obama’s recent remarks to the National Academy of Sciences adjusted slightly in
response to concerns over swine flu included, "… our capacity to deal with a
public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our
scientific and medical community.  And this is one more example of why we
cannot allow our nation to fall behind." 
Moreover the President’s remarks gave emphasis to the need for further
investments into science and research.  Similarly
www.recovery.gov, a website set up to
provide insight into the progress of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
states, "the (Act) is an unprecedented effort to jumpstart our economy… targets
investments towards key areas…"  Even
within the private sector many of the sharpest economic minds in the business
share a common answer to the question of what to do to help us out of this
current state?  Simply, keep investing. 

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Keep investing.  My thoughts
exactly!  There are over 1,000,000 young
people under the age of 18 currently living in South Carolina.  According to SC KIDS COUNT, "… too many of our youngsters are at risk of becoming
unskilled, disconnected, and unproductive adults. A quarter of South
Carolina’s children are at severe risk, and another quarter are at moderate risk

of not growing up to be self-supporting adults, and responsible community
citizens."   More than one in
every three of these youth will become pregnant at least once before their 20th
birthday.  Quite simply this is a failure
rate that is unacceptable but one that can be improved if we are willing to
make a more substantial investment.  Be
mindful that investment can take on many forms and, in fact, must go beyond
simple dollars and cents.  May is
nationally recognized as Teen Pregnancy Prevention month.  The entire month provides us a unique
opportunity to refocus attention on an issue critical to the overall health,
well-being and economic stability of our state and nation. 

Parents and family members are one of the most essential components of an
effective teen pregnancy prevention strategy. 
Make no mistake that conversations about love, sex and relationships
need to begin and end at home.  Nearly 9
in 10 young people agree it would be easier for them to postpone pregnancy if
they were able to have open, honest dialogue about these topics with a caring
family member.  Sadly, only about half of
all youth are fortunate enough to have had such a conversation.  Parents need to increase their
investment. 

School-based sex education also plays a critical role in preventing teen
pregnancy.  More than 8 in 10 registered
voters in South Carolina support an approach to school-based sex education that
emphasizes abstinence as the first and best choice for all young people, and
also includes information on condoms and contraception.  Our state’s Comprehensive Health Education
Act allows for such education to be delivered, but too often local school
districts do not carry through.  Such is
the case with unfunded mandates.  Schools
are not to blame for high rates of teen pregnancy, nor should they be asked to
single-handedly solve the problem.  But,
they should be asked to increase their investment in young people through the
delivery of evidence-based, proven comprehensive sex education.

A complete list of those from whom more is required would take space beyond
what I am allowed in this column.  Community-based
programs and youth serving agencies all over the country are being asked to do
more with less.  Now is not the time to
cut these programs, but rather to strengthen efforts and increase our
investment.  Those in faith communities
must increase their investment to deliver messages that are clear and
consistent around love, sex and relationships. 
The business community must make a more substantial investment in
mentoring and apprenticeship programs. 
Elected officials must do their part to ensure that funding for critical
issues like teen pregnancy prevention remain in tightened budgets. 

Each of us must take time this month to
increase our investment in the future of South Carolina.  There are few investment opportunities,
especially in the current time, that guarantee a return.  An investment in young people and teen
pregnancy prevention can do exactly that. 
More to the point we can no longer afford to pay the costs, both economic
and social, that are associated with a failure do our part in investing in this
critical issue.  After all, the only
thing at this point that is unacceptable is doing nothing.

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