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South Salt Lake Journal

Teen Mom Strong program helps young mothers navigate life

Oct 21, 2020 02:33PM ● By Bill Hardesty

The Teen Mom Strong program helps expecting teen moms navigate a new life. (Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

While the teen birth rate has been in a steady decline over the years, the 2018 national rate of 17.4 per 1,000 women ages 15-19 is substantially higher than other western industrialized nations. 2018 is the latest year of data reported by the CDC.

The Utah rate is 13.1. Only 11 states have a lower rate. Massachusetts has the lowest at 7.2 and Arkansas has the highest at 30.4.

On the CDC website, they outline some of the social/economic costs of teen births.

“Teen pregnancy and childbearing bring substantial social and economic costs through immediate and long-term impacts on teen parents and their children.

  • Pregnancy and birth are significant contributors to high school dropout rates among girls. Only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, whereas approximately 90% of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school.
  • The children of teenage mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement and to drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult.”

Teen Mom Strong

In response to this situation, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah has developed a program for expecting teens and teen moms called “Teen Mom Strong.”

“We are a small program with a big impact,” Annabel Sheinberg, vice president of External Affairs, said.

They report some great success on their website.

  • Since 2011, over 120 participants enrolled in our pregnant and parenting support and educational group.
  • From 2015 to 2018, 95% of group members have graduated with a high school diploma early or on time.
  • Compared to their peers in Utah who are not in the program, our members enroll in schooling and paths to employment at far higher rates.”

“I am so impressed the level of commitment of our members to themselves, to others, and to their children,” Sheinberg said.

One key benefit of the program is that it reduces the isolation felt by many teen moms.

The focus is on the participants. Pre-pandemic, they met at the Sorenson Multicultural Center (855 W. California Ave.). During the pandemic, they are mostly working with participants one on one through texting and phone calls. Like other group therapy organizations, they tried Zoom, but found it not effective. 

When they met in person, childcare was available. On a conference call, moms must tend to their child’s needs, and they don’t also have the privacy they need.

“There is power of the group. It takes away the stigma away,” Sheinberg said.

They are reviewing other online platforms to get back to the group therapy advantage. In addition, they could reach out to the entire state giving support to a teen mom in Logan and in Panquitch and in Hurricane as well as Salt Lake County. However, not until next year.

Another pandemic related initiative is to provide food to participants. Food insecurity is a common issue for teen moms. They are looking for a way to deliver food boxes each month.

Meetings

The group is conducted by a staff facilitator, but most often guest presenters are brought in. One central focus is healthy relationships along with employment, education, and ways to navigate life.

Participants also have access to other social support organizations and government programs.

Participants are given a $10 stipend at each meeting. When participants have come for 12 weeks, they receive a $100 bonus.

Sometimes, teen fathers are invited to meetings but there is no program for teen dads. In most cases, teen moms are without partners.

The free program is open to all expecting teen moms and teen moms who are 19 or younger.

Typically, case workers and other social programs refer participants to the program. However, individuals can also contact Planned Parenthood directly.

A facilitator will call the individual to explain the program and determine the commitment level. Participations must commit to one-year involvement. They also must follow rules about attendance, behavior, sharing, and providing support for other members.

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