16th and pregnant
Lee County’s teen pregnancy rate is falling, but it remains one of the highest in North Carolina — which in turn has one of the highest rates of any state in the country.
According to data recently published by the state, Lee County had the state’s 16th highest rate of teen pregnancy in 2012. At least 102 women ages 15-19 became pregnant, for a rate of 54.1 pregnancies per 1,000 — meaning that 5.4 percent of girls ages 15-19, or about one in every 20, got pregnant last year.
That’s a drop from 130 pregnancies in 2011 (7.2 percent) and 174 in 2008 (9.1 percent). Both of those years, the county ranked in the top 10 in the state.
“As you can see, Lee County is doing great,” said Pamela Glover, adolescent health coordinator and educator with the the county’s health department. “Our numbers have dropped, and we went from number seven to number 16. We are still doing a lot of classes, counseling young people if they’re pregnant or think they’re pregnant, or if they’re thinking of getting on birth control.”
Glover coordinates LeeCAN, a health department initiative focused on tackling teen pregnancy as well as mental health issues and obesity. She and Johnnye Waller, who handles sex ed and other programs for Lee County Schools, said credit for the decline can’t go to a single group because so many different factors and people have contributed. But both said one of the major contributors has been the Coalition for Families in Lee County.
Carolyn Spivey, the coalition’s executive director, said the drop in pregnancies shows local teens are now more conscious of their health and the decisions they make. The Coalition for Families alone, she said, works with about 200 teens a year in preventative programs, which range from lectures to community service projects.
“The coalition’s strategy has been to implement scientifically based programs that have a proven success rate of reducing teen pregnancies,” Spivey wrote in an email. “The programs we use adhere to the philosophy that teens will practice responsible behavior if they learn to connect to their surroundings and if they receive accurate, comprehensive sexual education.”
She said teen pregnancies are part of a cycle of poverty, and it’s nearly impossible to talk about one with talking about the other.
“Poverty still exists, which is a hugh culprit that produces teen pregnancy,” Spivey wrote. “Addressing our community’s economic health will also play an important role in future success. ... It is also imperative [that] as a state, we realize the importance of funding prevention programs, and the savings to be made in the long run. Preventing teens from having babies is an economic issue and goes a long way in allowing a teen to have a head start toward leading a productive life.”
Waller said in addition to working hand-in-hand with the Coalition for Families, the schools have many formal and informal measures to help students who are pregnant, as well as to help them from becoming pregnant.
“I think we’re very fortunate that the staff in our school system is concerned about the whole child,” Waller said. “They realize that there are factors that aren’t academic but that can be an obstacle to learning. ... [Students] are always welcome to go to any of our people, and if they don’t have the answer, they will find someone who does.”
Glover said she’s glad for the combined efforts of the schools, county government and nonprofits, as well as the Sanford Housing Authority, the Boys and Girls Club, the now-defunct Hillcrest Youth Center and especially local churches.
“I pray that one day, we will have no teen pregnancies,” she said. “There is always room for improvement because one teen pregnant is one too many. It’s not a death sentence, but it does make life a lot more difficult.”
Glover said teens who want assistance or guidance can always call her or her staff at LeeCAN. Plenty of parents also call her for counseling — she has a teenager and knows how they can be, she explained — and she said anyone who wants help can contact her at (919) 718-4640 ext. 5359, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.