Group works to end teen pregnancy

ALBANY, Ga. -- Some progress had been made to stomp out teen pregnancy, but there is still work to be done.

The "Taking Time for Teens" Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, consisting of area community leaders, met at a luncheon in downtown Albany Wednesday as part of a continuing effort to help bring awareness to the issue of teen pregnancy and how to prevent it.

The event included a testimony from Tamara George, a senior at Monroe Comprehensive High School and the mother of a 1-year-old son.

"I had to stop extracurricular activities; I had to be more responsible and grow up faster," she said. "I don't regret anything, but my son has motivated me. He gave me a better outlook on life.

"One little thing can change your whole life. We need to come together more and not be afraid to stress this issue."

At the luncheon, Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards presented a multi-tiered approach for preventing teen pregnancy that included educational programs for males and females, clear and consistent messages, access to family planning services, access to meaningful employment, access to support and positive influences, and breaking the cycle of sexual abuse.

"We don't have a simple solution to this; it's too complex. We need a multi-angle approach," Edwards said. "Our teens need encouragement to remain abstinent, and to be educated when they become sexually active.

"We must commit to a positive effort, and recognize that similar problems have programs that are comprehensive. We are in this for the long haul, and the measure of our success is the young people who finish school, have positive influences and (delay parenthood)."

The keynote speaker for the event was Elois Edge, a midwife with Albany Area Primary Health Care.

"It's important we make a difference before the first pregnancy," she said. "We can all make a difference; we all have a role to play. Prevention matters.

"Through prevention, we can ensure teens don't have to face (the challenges associated with) pregnancy. It's not a burden they can handle independently."

In 2007, the number of live births occurring per 1,000 females aged 15-19 was 75.5 in Dougherty County. In 2008, the county's number of sexually transmitted disease cases per 100,000 for people aged 13-19 was 6,022.5.

Teen birth rates per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in Georgia was 54.8 in 2007. A report released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 47.8 percent of the nation's teens in grades 9-12 were sexually active in 2007. At present, there are about 750,000 teen pregnancies and more than 400,000 teen births annually. Roughly half of mothers aged 17 and younger graduate from high school and fewer than 2 percent earn a college degree by age 30.

Teen childbearing in the United States costs taxpayers at least $9.1 billion a year, the National Campaign reports. The same population put Georgia taxpayers out $344 million in 2004.

"The cost of teen pregnancy affects everybody," Edge said. "It's not only a social expense, it's also a national expense."

The coalition has been engaged in various educational programs to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy, including annual poster contests and the "Get a Life" teen maze.

The interactive maze activity is filled with decisions and consequences that are randomly drawn and given. The idea is to allow children to experience what could happen if they engage in risky behavior.

"This is all about working together and connecting the dots," said Angie Barber, director of Phoebe Network of Trust's school health program. "We love what we do.

"It's all about the children and helping them grow."