In my community, Charleston
South Carolina, more teens get pregnant and
fewer graduate from high school than the average for the country as a whole. Teen pregnancy is especially high in the rural parts of
our county where there are few resources and lots of poverty. For example at Baptist
School, the small school that serves the Sea
Islands communities, each year about 30 out of 200 to 225 girls have
a baby. Think about those numbers; each
year 1 out of 7 girls has a baby. The
combination of teen parenthood and school dropouts in our community translates to another
generation of continued poverty.
Recognition of this problem, confirmed by a local needs assessment, spurred development of the Sea Island Teen Opportunity for Prevention Programs
(STOPP) in 2004, through generous support from the New Morning Foundation.
Initially you might think that reducing teen pregnancy
should be easy, just combine sex education and birth control. Turns out, it’s not simple. In fact most teen pregnancy prevention
programs don’t work. Those that do work
require intensive services over a long time to reach kids on an individual
level. One example is our school-based
program for teen mothers, the Second Chance Club, which reduced subsequent teen
births by half (resulting in cost savings of $19,097 per birth prevented) and
increased high school graduation. (See
The STOPP program at Baptist Hill
High School also uses
several other methods. For the past six
years the staff has worked diligently with the school to provide education in
the classroom and the community, individual care coordination, and medical
services. STOPP closely collaborates
with other organizations serving youth in the community such as the churches
and the community health center. The
program builds upon the community’s greatest asset, large extended families
with many generations caring for their young people.
It has been hard, difficult work but the results look
good. The number of teen pregnancies has
decreased each year. Last year only 3
girls had a baby, down from 30 a year before the program began. And more good news: instead of diagnosing
pregnancies, the STOPP clinic did a record number of college physicals! These young people are on their way to
building successful lives.
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As a pediatrician I am all about kids achieving their full
potential, from infancy through young adulthood. That’s why I hope that all babies will be
born to parents who are prepared to be good parents. That’s also why I hope that teens will be
able to focus on their own development tasks and postpone pregnancy until they
are adults. While difficult to achieve,
these goals are not impossible. Its
worth the effort when you think of what it could mean, empty jails and
overflowing colleges whose graduates are productive tax-paying citizens. Caring for teens through programs such as
STOPP is exhausting work but will pay off with long lasting benefits for many
generations. Our young people are worth
The author answers a few questions about preventing teen pregnancy.