Breaking the cycle takes education, responsibility, concern
CHICKASAW COUNTY – While the number of teen pregnancies nationwide is dropping, Chickasaw County still has one of the highest rates in the country.
In 2011, the last year for complete numbers, the state reported 29 births to teen mothers in Chickasaw County, and while this was down from the 55 teen births reported in 2010 it was still above the state aveage of 64 births per 1,000 and the national average of 39 per 1,000.
Those same numbers have shown a drop in the Hispanic and African-American community, but they have remained steady among White teen girls.
“I feel education is the key,” said Zettie Johnson, counselor at Okolona High School. “That is not just sex education, but also talking to these girls about what they may have to give up if they have a child.”
Johnson said she didn’t feel it was her place to discuss or promote birth control. Johnson did say she did feel the number was influenced by information that allowed girls to make wise choices.
“Abstinence is still the only 100-percent certain form or birth control, but kids are having sex,” said Johnson. “The reality is they need to know how this could affect their life and who can help them.”
Donna Schomburg with COPES was a little more blunt. The COPES Program provides civic, economic and community development for Houston and Chickasaw County families through volunteer sponsored programs. It specifically targets at-risk youth, pregnant teens and school dropouts.
“Most of of the girls who go through out program did not have access to birth control or know how to go about getting it,” said Schomburg. “I know there are some out there who disagree with me, but birth control works.”
And she said COPES, which also informs girls of the burdens of teen pregnancy, had the numbers to prove it.
“We have had 214 girls come to COPES since it started seven years ago,” said Schomburg. “Of those, 64 were already pregnant and 23 already had a child before entering the program. After going through COPES those girls have only had two more additional births.”
Schomburg said one of the hurdles she sees is transportation.
“A lot of these girls live in the country and don’t have a way to get to the health department,” she explained. “And once they get pregnant they don’t have a way to get to the doctor. It’s really sad that a tank full of gas could help reduce our problem.”
Schomburg said she didn’t think teen pregnancy was linked to a desire to obtain welfare or government support. She did say there are older single mothers who are “working the system.”
Johnson agreed saying teens are more worried about what they are going to do this weekend and trying to find money for clothes and the movies.
A study by T. Tamkins and published in “Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health explained it this way.
“There is little evidence to support the common belief that teenage mothers become pregnant to get benefits, welfare and government housing,” said Tamkins. “Most knew little about housing or financial aid before they got pregnant and what they thought they knew turned out to be wrong.”
Schomburg and Johnson did say they felt young girls were being preyed on by older men.
Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Andy Harmon said his department is glad to investigate any pregnancy where the mother is under 18 and the father is two years older.
“What we find is people don’t want to talk about it,” said Harmon. “The girl and the family often just goes ahead and have the baby.”
A report produced by the Mississippi Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force said 40 percent of all teen pregnancies in the state are fathered by men over age 20
“The girl often still has feeling for the man and doesn’t want to see him get in trouble,” said Schomburg. “What she doesn’t realize is to get child support she has to name someone, otherwise the burden or raising that child is all on her and her family.”
Aisha Goen, Executive Director of Baby Steps, said her agency has seen success in getting dads involved in the lives of their children.
“We are not the only solution, but I think we are chipping away at it,” said Goens. “Again, our focus is education and getting the mom, the dad and the family focused on that child.”
Goens said getting dad to read to their child is one way they are getting dads involved in the life of their child.
“These guys need to see that being a father is not just a financial drain,” said Goens. “They need to see the joy of being a father and the satisfaction of raising a child they can be proud of.”
Goens said poverty is a big hurdle to overcome in Chickasaw County.
One third of Mississippi Children live in poverty. Having a teen parent makes it more likely those babies will fall into that category.
Johnson, Schomburg and Goens said having programs for teens – specifically teen girls – that show them someone cares are another solution.
“Anyone who has teenage girls knows they don’t listen to you until they know you care,” said Johnson. “These girls are looking for love and that’s part of the problem. For many, sex equals love. I can’t stress that enough and people need to wake up.”
Schomberg echoed Johnson’s point.
“If these girls think no one cares and they don’t have any value, they will have a baby that loves them,” said Schomberg. “This community needs to look around and make the time and effort to do something about this. Until we show our teens we care – and that means local people giving their time and money – the problem of teen pregnancy in this county will not go away.”