Community members discuss teen pregnancy impact
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 15, 2011 1:46 PM
There is a pricetag for issues young people face -- from poverty to teen pregnancy -- and it will be paid, both by the next generation and the community that serves them, said speakers at Tuesday night's Board of Health meeting.
The board scheduled the evening meeting, said Chairman Rick Stovall, to give the public an opportunity to get more involved.
The agenda featured two speakers with experience with teen health issues.
Dr. Dave Tayloe of Goldsboro Pediatrics zeroed in on teen pregnancy and its costs both now and in the future. Danny King of Mount Olive, executive director of ADLA, a program that serves at-risk youths, shared some of the services it provides.
Tayloe rattled off a laundry list of facts and statistics about teen pregnancy, "the biggest problem in our county" as well as the state and nation. Between 1991 and 2008, he said, there have been 272,824 teen births in this state, costing taxpayers an estimated $7.7 billion.
But the problems associated with teen pregnancy -- which include public health, WIC, welfare and food stamps -- raise the figure to at an estimated $320 million a year in North Carolina, he added.
Calling it a "drain" on not just tax revenue, Tayloe said other ramifications include the potential that children born out of wedlock are more likely to drop out of school, become unemployed and wind up in prison.
And while in recent years the teen birth rate might have declined some, Wayne County is still above the state rate and costs the county about $7 million in Medicaid alone.
"The Health Department sees around 400 patients in family planning every month," he said. "About 30 percent (of those) are teenagers."
Compared with the rest of the world, Wayne County is "way behind," Tayloe said.
"There's something that we're not doing," he said. "It probably has something to do with sex education."
House Bill 88, passed last year, mandates a more comprehensive sex education be taught in school, beginning in grade 7. Parents can opt out of the comprehensive version, allowing their child to be taught the abstinence-only program, said Allison Pridgen, director of student support services for the district.
"This House bill is just a joyful noise, admitting that we need to educate in our schools," Tayloe said.
He recalled back in the mid-1980s when a health educator was hired to work in one of the city schools -- enlisted to help reduce the number of pregnancies -- and ultimately brought the numbers down by about 50 percent.
Her efforts "opened my eyes to the value of having someone on site who was willing to talk about these things," Tayloe said. "I think there's some hope in this sex ed House Bill 88 so that you're not locked into talking about nothing but abstinence."
Mrs. Pridgen, with the school system for 30 years, said it's "the way to go."
"I believe that Dr. Tayloe is correct," she said. "When I came, we had the comprehensive and then it was outlawed and in came the abstinence. I do not believe that it worked.
"We have to educate these kids and help them understand more than just the birds and bees aspect. ... We have far too many that are not making those good choices -- and have not made the choices in the past -- because they did not have the information and had limited information."
Jan Metzler, an English teacher at Eastern Wayne High School, said she would just ask that the "abstinence-only" version not be completely dropped.
"Please let it have as much weight," she said.
Part of her concern, she said later, was that sometimes by promoting birth control too heavily, "it promotes that kind of behavior."
The educator praised such efforts as the Board of Health-sponsored abstinence essay contest, which serves to promote "goodness and decency."
"It's a wonderful springboard in the classroom," she said.
Melissa Murray, family services coordinator with WAGES, said adults could also benefit from more education. When she makes home visits, she said, questions arise from parents as well as teens about birth control methods.
"I think we need to have some training on the different birth control," she said.
Dr. Ashton Griffin, medical director with the Health Department, said he had similar concerns, especially around some of the hormone-containing versions.
"I think we're under-using the copper IUD tremendously," he said. "It gives 10 years of birth control -- you set it and forget it. If we're going with birth control, we ought to really promote an effective and chemically clean means of birth control."
"We're focusing on the girls -- what about the guys?" asked board member Tommy Gibson, who also raised questions about involving local churches and addressing the moral aspect.
Mrs. Metzler said she supported that and had spoken to the Rev. Dr. William Barber, also state NAACP president, about using the "power of the pulpit" to address the problem.
"Other religions promote purity and chastity," she said. "That's what keeps civilization alive or you'll have what we have got. It's just impacting the schools beyond what anybody could imagine.
"I just wish you could spend a month in the classrooms and see what we see every single day."
Nola Claiborne of Goldsboro Pediatrics said she has also seen teen mothers coming in with their second and third child.
"They have no idea what they're going to do, they're clueless and I hate to use that word but they are," she said. "It's so sad, so disheartening to see these precious little lives brought into the world and (moms) have no idea."
By contrast, she noted, the Health Department "offers every opportunity for a young woman and young man to prevent getting pregnant."
King was invited to speak by Health Director James Roosen, who said he was impressed with the efforts being made. ADLA, launched in 2005, works with a Structured Day program targeting suspended students, also has an after school program, GED effort and soup kitchen.
All told, it actually spans a range of ages, from kindergarten to age 24, King said.
"What we're talking about is behavior. We're talking about choice, we're talking about lack of supervision, lack of skills," something he termed "generational curses."
"I believe people just don't have the training. We have to break the cycle."
Introducing the first culinary arts program in the county has provided job skills and been proven effective, boasting a 48 percent job placement rate, King said. Likewise, the Structured Day program, serving those in short- and long-term suspension situations, is a "safe haven," whether for 10 days to six months or an entire school year.
"That's pregnancy prevention within itself because they would be there unsupervised and making bad choices," he said.
Children are his passion, King said, and so is making a difference.
"What in the world are we doing with our children?" he asked. "It's no wonder they end up pregnant or in trouble -- they haven't been trained. We have a lot of work to do, I guess, is all I can say.
"It's going to take all of us, it's going to take Wayne County working together. ... These problems can be solved if we work collectively together."
Stovall asked what the community could do to support such an endeavor. King said one thing would be to provide opportunities for the young people to job shadow and learn more about careers available to them.