Pregnant Teens and High School Dropouts: What is all the fuss about?

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As an intern at Georgia Family Connection Partnership, I learn something new nearly everyday. One thing I’ve figured out is that while Georgia Family Connection county collaborative organizations are incredibly diverse in their structures and plans, they are united in their passion for improving the well-being of the state’s children and families. Two issues collaborative organizations across the state are honing in on this year are teen pregnancy and on-time graduation.

We often discuss these two issues together because they’re so closely related. We can tie a lack of education to teen motherhood. Teen girls who drop out of school are more likely to become pregnant, and girls who become pregnant are more likely to drop out of school. Promoting on-time graduation keeps teens in the classroom, which helps to prevent teen pregnancy and vice versa.

At the same time, when neighborhoods invest in keeping teens in school they’re also investing in their economic and social vibrancy. When you’re better educated, you have more earning potential, and when you earn more your family is more likely to be healthy and self-sustainable. It’s as simple as that.

President Obama publically recognized the value of education last year when he challenged our nation to strive for the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020. This is especially challenging for Georgia, where graduation rates have consistently ranked among the lowest in the nation.

Making consistent gains in Georgia’s graduation rate has been difficult. Our state turned around almost 40 drop-out factories (schools with 9th to 12th grade retention rates of 60 percent or less) in 2008, taking a step forward. But in 2009 we took a big step back, as 10 new drop-out factories emerged statewide (Civic Enterprises). We’ll have to stop back-tracking if we expect to catch up with national standards. Improvement plans at the school, community, and state levels must be both effective and sustainable.

The challenge facing teen pregnancy reduction initiatives is slightly different. While we’ve made strides in reducing teen births in recent years, we still have a long way to go. Although average outcomes at the state level are improving, every locality is not benefiting. Nearly 70 percent of Georgia’s counties have birth rates exceeding the state birth rate, which means only a few counties with especially low rates are pulling our average up. Worse than that, some Georgia’s county teen birth rates rival the disheartening teen childbirth rates of developing countries, with seven counties averaging more than 100 births per 1,000 girls 15 – 19 years old.

The good news is that Georgia Family Connection county collaborative organizations are applying a variety of strategies to address our challenges.

Towns County, the state’s leader in on-time graduation, is working on getting parents of K-12th grade children involved at school to promote student achievement. Towns County Family Connection’s work is facilitated through a Strengthening Families Program, life skills parent training, a community resource handbook, and an afterschool tutoring program. The county’s two-generation program fosters long-term success by promoting reading on grade level.

Family Connection Glynn is working to provide a slew of resources to families with children ages 0-5 in high-need neighborhoods and schools. Their work includes childhood reading programs and fatherhood initiatives guided by detailed, incremental goals for attendance and retention. At the high-school level, Family Connection Glynn is utilizing networks like Communities In Schools.

In Clarke County, local Communities In Schools merged with Family Connection. The Athens-Clarke County Family Connection’s orchestrated partnership of 90 organizations has resulted in a Promise Neighborhood federal grant for the Whatever It Takes initiative, a community wellness plan that exemplifies the cradle to career education ideal and aims to have every child in Athens on course to graduate from post-secondary education by 1 p.m. on Wednesday July 1, 2020. Now that’s precision.

Bacon County Family Connection is concentrating services on 46 6th-9th graders who have unsupervised free time and high rates of absenteeism. The Bacon County collaborative also plans to apply the use of Baby Think It Over (a realistic baby simulator) with students, promote access to Bacon County Health Department resources, and start self-esteem-building clubs to target teen pregnancy.

County strategies are inspiring. As we work toward creating healthier neighborhoods, county collaboratives throughout our statewide network will continue to work together to ensure that all students in Georgia successfully complete high school, graduate on-time, and avoid teen pregnancy.

For more ideas on reducing teen birth rates visit:

GaFCP’s Best Practices Sheet on Preventing Teen Pregnancy

Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Guidelines for Replicating Programs to Prevent Teen Pregnancy