Help stem teen pregnancies

Somewhere this week in Richmond County, 12 young girls will become pregnant. Statistically speaking, they will face persistent poverty; a high school diploma and a living wage will become a distant memory; and a minefield of challenges awaits them, and their babies, for years to come.

And one way or another, we all pay.

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and Richmond County, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the state, really need to take the issue to heart.

Our teen pregnancy rate is nearly 20 percent higher than the state rate. Forty percent of teen mothers do not graduate from high school, and only 2 percent ever graduate from college in their lifetime.

TEEN CHILDBEARING costs Richmond County taxpayers approximately $11 million each year in medical, health, food stamps and other entitlement services. Most of these costs are associated with negative social and health outcomes for the children of teen parents.

These are alarming, unacceptable statistics.

As a community striving for high graduation rates, and preparing our young people to compete in a global market economy, we must invest in teen pregnancy prevention. Our youth deserve the opportunity to complete their high-school and college educations free of early parenthood. Their future children deserve the opportunity to grow up in financially and emotionally stable homes.

Over the next five years, our community will make a focused effort to tackle the challenging issue of teen pregnancy. Last October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (G-CAPP) $7.5 million to work with youth serving organizations and clinics in Richmond County to reduce teen pregnancy and teen births by 10 percent by 2015.

THROUGH THIS community-wide initiative, G-CAPP and the Richmond County partners will use broad strategies to reach the majority of youth in our community as well as more intensive strategies customized to reach youth at highest risk for teen pregnancy. All of the programs are evidenced-based and will be rigorously evaluated.

For this initiative to be truly successful, it needs extensive community support from not just parents and young people, but also local foundations, government agencies, public health, education, businesses and faith communities. We as a community should welcome, embrace, support and participate in this community-wide prevention initiative.

Together we can reduce teen pregnancy and teen births by 10 percent. By doing so, we can expect to save the community an estimated $1.2 million per year in costs that would have gone to supporting teen mothers and their children.

Our future will benefit from healthy, productive, well-prepared young people.

(The writer is district health director of the East Central Health District of the Georgia Department of Community Health in Augusta.)

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