Health Care Advocates Fight to Reduce Macon-Bibb’s Abnormally High Teen Pregnancy Rate

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By Myracle Lewis
Updated March 12, 2024

The most recent available data shows Macon-Bibb County has continued a decade-long trend of exceeding Georgia’s average teen pregnancy rate.

Macon-Bibb reported 19.5 teen pregnancies among 15 to 17-year-olds per 1,000 residents of that age in 2022. That was more than double the state’s average of 9.8, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s maternal health database.

Macon’s rate of teenagers with more than one child was abnormally high too. In 2022, 22% of teen mothers in Bibb County had a second child, compared to the state average of 14%.

Bibb County’s teen birth rate is one of the highest in Middle Georgia, according to the Georgia Family Connection Partnership data. Bibb had nearly twice as many teen pregnancies than any surrounding Middle Georgia county, with 61 pregnancies among 10 to-17-year-olds. Houston County had 35, Baldwin County had nine and Peach County had eight.

High teen pregnancies have a complex ripple effect on communities and academic performance, said Dion Walker, school-based initiatives director of Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential.

How teen pregnancy can affect education

“What we find in Macon-Bibb is that people have a difficult time being in class. We look at graduation rates. We look at parent involvement. All of that plays a role in why the pregnancy rates are so high,” Walker said.

The county’s school district has reported significant school attendance issues recently. Nearly 30% of 21,500 students in the Bibb County School District were chronically absent as of Feb. 27, according to school officials.

Despite the district’s new all-time high school graduation rate of 87% last year, North Central Health District public information officer Michael Hokanson said the completion rate is slightly lower than national and state averages.

Pregnancy rates among adult teens are high too: in 2022, Bibb County had a teen pregnancy rate of 66.6 per 1,000 18 to 19-year-old mothers, as compared to the state average of 35.5, North Central Health District’s data shows.

The Macon-Bibb County Health Department opened a free teen health center near Central High School in 2016 to combat this recurring crisis, but it closed in 2018, Hokanson said.

“While there were a variety of factors involved in the decision to retire the off-site locations, the biggest impacts were lack of utilization and clients not showing up for their appointments,” Hokanson said.

Poverty is the main contributing factor to Bibb County’s high teen birth rate, and both have far-reaching effects on the community, Walker said.

Walker’s role at the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential, an adolescent health care group, is to institutionalize comprehensive sexual health education in Georgia schools to reduce teen birth rates

She directs the Sexual Health for Adolescents Rooted in Equity program, which educates youth of color, rural youth and LGBTQ+ youth about teen pregnancy prevention.

“If you keep them busy, you keep them empowered, and keep their minds sharp, then the likelihood of them engaging in risky behaviors reduces significantly, which also helps your graduation rates or deal with the generational cycle of poverty,” she said.

High Teen Birth Rates in Black Communities

National teen pregnancies have fallen to a record low, but disparities in teen births persist between different groups based on race, location and socioeconomic status.

In 2022, 86% of the 212 teen pregnancies in Bibb County from moms aged 10 to 19 were Black, according to North Central Health District data.

The department’s data also showed the adolescent pregnancy rate for Black teens aged 18 to 19 in Bibb County was 95.7 per 1,000 in 2022. White teens in the same age range had a pregnancy rate of 22.5.

Angel Young, community-based initiatives director of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential, said teen births are high among Black youth because there are no resources that keep them engaged when compared to urban areas.

She also linked the high percentages to youth acting out of boredom, the sudden independence that comes with entering adulthood and the mistaken belief that teen pregnancy won’t happen to them.

Jevon Gibson, principal advisor of Community Health Solutions, said children’s support systems are unequipped when poverty is involved, leaving the door wide open for youth to engage in risky activities.

These risk factors often promote truancy and teenage pregnancies while also extending the disproportionate number of young Black males who are raised by single mothers and lack father figures, he added.

Roughly 53% of youth in Bibb County live in single-parent households, and according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 30% of Black students in the Bibb County School District were chronically absent during the 2022-2023 school year.

Gibson and Young co-lead the Eban Project, a pregnancy prevention initiative for Black male youth ages 13 to 19 specifically in Macon-Bibb and Clayton counties due to their teen pregnancy numbers exceeding both national and state averages, Gibson said.

The project uses evidence-based interventions to reduce risky behavior with a holistic approach centered on the daily experiences of Black males. It also focuses on at-risk youth who struggle to sustain academic engagement.

“We have a responsibility as Black men to create a new narrative for who we are and what we’re capable of,” Gibson said. “Being a responsible man is not a bad thing – but a good thing.”

What’s Being Done?

To address the issue, the Bibb County School District implemented the Family Life and Sexual Health curriculum, which “includes a strong family involvement component, creating opportunities for families to talk with their children about important sexual health topics,” said BCSD spokesperson Stephanie Hartley.

“It is inclusive and highly interactive, including examples and activities that will resonate with youth from a variety of geographical regions, racial identities and sexual orientations,” she added.

Walker agrees that, in addition to comprehensive sex education, narrowing the communication gap between parents and young people can make a holistic difference in numbers.

“Parents have to be armed with the same information as our young people so that they can comfortably ask and answer those difficult questions,” Walker said. “We can’t just depend on the school systems. We can’t just depend on district leaders to see the importance.”

The Macon-Bibb Health Department also has planning services like birth control options, pregnancy testing and access to health educators for youth, Hokanson said.

“We encourage clients to contact the local health departments to inquire about available services before their visit so the client knows what to bring when they receive services,” Hokanson added.

GCAPP leaders encourage youth ages 13 to 19 and their parents to join their evidence-based programs because “we’re hoping to plant the seed that will make a life-lasting impact,” Young said.

Walker said, “All the young people should have the right to have access to high-quality health education to make informed decisions. That’s why the work we do is so important because they are our next generation, so we have to make sure they’re empowered to do so.”

This story was originally published March 12, 2024.

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