Kids raising kids: Why are teen pregnancy rates so high in Jackson? (MLive)
Published May 22, 2013, by MLive.
By Lisa Satayut.
JACKSON, MI – The question begs to be asked. Why are pregnancy rates so high in the city of Jackson compared to other cities in Michigan?
Is history repeating itself? Is there adequate access to birth control for teens? Do parents talk to their children about sex?
Although the county rate has been reduced by 42 percent since the county’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative started in 2006, there is still a problem in the city, according to county officials.
One avenue of attack is the Teen Outreach Program, which is only offered at schools in the city to “high-risk” students.
TOP has a presence at da Vinci High School, T.A. Wilson, Western Options and the Middle School at Parkside. The program is funded by the federal government, but run by the state. The county receives $100,000 every year for TOP.
In addition, TPPI members visit schools in the county to talk about sex, birth control and related issues. A recent visit to Columbia Central High School revealed that 39 percent of Columbia Central High School students reported having had sex.
Teens educating teens
As part of that program, Jaylen Austin, 19, recently gave a presentation to his classmates at da Vinci High School on the NuvaRing.
The students paired up to teach each other about different types of birth control, including the pros and cons of each.
“It doesn’t protect against HIV or other STDs,” Austin said of the NuvaRing.
Austin said the program has opened his eyes to the consequences of unprotected sex. He admits some of his friends don’t use condoms.
“They think it’s cool to not use them, and they tell me when you have a condom on you can’t feel nothing,” he said.
Amanda Voorheis, 17, is almost five months pregnant and admitted to not always using birth control. She is a former da Vinci High School student currently attending Career Quest, a vocational school in downtown Jackson.
“We didn’t always use condoms and apparently one of the times….this happened,” she said pointing to her stomach.
According to Advocates for Youth, between 85 and 95 percent of sexually active female teens who do not use birth control will become pregnant one year after first having sex.
Is birth control accessible?
Under state law, schools are not allowed to distribute condoms to students. But they are available.
Planned Parenthood keeps a bowl of condoms at the front desk and anyone is allowed to take three.
“We also keep them in the restrooms for teens who are embarrassed,” said Amber Arb, the spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.
Planned Parenthood holds sex education workshops throughout the community, funded partly by the Michigan Department of Community Health.
In one of those classes, teens are shown how to properly use a condom.
Center for Family Health CEO and President Molly Kaser said teens who come into the center for family planning services are given condoms and access to birth control pills. It is a confidential service, even if the teen’s parent also uses CFH services.
The CFH also offers free pregnancy testing at the downtown location as well as the CFH campus health centers, which includes the Middle School at Parkside, Jackson High School and the Northeast Health Center on the campus of the Northeast Elementary School.
Kaser said last year 167 out of 969 obstetrics patients seen for prenatal care at the CFH were 19 or younger.
Eight counties, including Jackson, received funding for TOP in the state. It targets about 150 youth in Jackson between the ages of 12 and 19.
Besides sex education, the program also focuses on life skills and requires 20 hours of community service from each student.
TOP students also discuss the “pull-out” or withdrawal method, said Michelle White, coordinator for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.
“We are not encouraging this. Many teens and adults use this method. It’s about 73 percent effective, that’s not very good,” White said of the withdrawal method.
Recently, White talked with students about the pros and cons of abstinence.
Some teens said they feel “judged” if they choose not to be sexually active. It’s not seen as “cool.”
Da Vinci student Ayjah Hamilton, a member of the county’s teen advisory council, said oftentimes teens are bored on the weekends and end up in “high-risk situations.”
“It’s a small town, there’s nothing here to do, and when there is nothing to do we are going to resort to something we think is fun like sex, drugs and alcohol, that’s what people do,” said Hamilton, 16.
Hamilton said she knows more than 20 teens who are currently pregnant or who have recently had a child.
She said the success of programs, like, TOP, depends largely on the individual.
“I honestly think it depends on the person and the experiences they have gone through,” she said. “It depends on how much hope you have for yourself and who you want to be.”
Parents as a role model
Kaser also said parental involvement plays a key role in reducing teen pregnancy rates.
“The root of slowing down teen pregnancy lies in early childhood and the bond between the parent and child,” she said. “Parents should act as role models and help them with goals in life.”
Another key factor is whether the mother was pregnant as a teen. It’s become a horrible cycle, one advocates hope they can stop, or at least slow, by educating young parents.
“The more we as a community can work together to try and help young parents so they can shape the course of their kids’ lives, the more successful we will be in reducing pregnancy rates,” Kaser said.
The TPPI receives funds from the state to educate parents on how to talk to their kids about sex. The Talk Early, Talk Often program is an educational role playing workshop for parents.
Abstinence or sex education?
Sex education is not taught within all school districts, some only teach abstinence. And, it is up to the school district to decide.
White said students in sixth grade are the youngest the TPPI can work with.
She said Jackson Public Schools teaches 15 hours of “intervention” starting in sixth grade focusing on puberty and healthy relationships. The following year, JPS students learn sex education including birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.
“We have to target the city of Jackson, they want us to work with the highest-risk youth,” White said of grant funds.
Some schools in the county teach abstinence only. Some would argue that this leads to higher teen pregnancy rates but the numbers show that the problem is not in the county— it’s in the city where sex education and birth control are taught.
“We can make the assumption in the city that not as many teens are using birth control,” White said.
Another program the TPPI organizes is the Power of Me initiative. This program is funded by the United Way of Jackson County.
The program focuses on body image and self-esteem and targets girls ages 11-14. A fashion show wraps up the four-week after school program.
This year, 28 girls successfully completed the program.
Poverty has also been linked to higher rates of teen pregnancy.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.7 percent of individuals in the city of Jackson were living below the poverty level from 2007 to 2011.
“We have the highest concentration of poverty in the city and unfortunately a lot of low-income kids have a more challenging time at school and coming up with goals, that’s where you get ambivalence,” Kaser said. “’I don’t really want to get pregnant but I don’t have anything else going on.’”
May 22, 2013