LIMA — The Talk.
Lisa McDuffie, president and CEO of YWCA of Northwest Ohio, remembers it well.
“My parents said, ‘Keep your skirt down and your legs closed,’” McDuffie said. “My parents believed they talked to me about this, but they did not talk to me about hormones, about what happens when you find that first boy you think you really love and can’t live without.”
Parents talking often and openly with their children about sex, love and relationships is a huge part of preventing teen pregnancy, McDuffie said Wednesday during a forum on teen pregnancy prevention at the City Club. The program was sponsored by the YWCA and Allen County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Taskforce.
Those talks are even more important in a society where music, magazines and television are more explicit and reaching younger teens and children, McDuffie said.
“If you’re not talking to your kids, the TV is,” she said.
Allen County’s teen births have trended downward for more than a decade and reached 257 in 1999. In 2010, the number was 147, and in 2011 it was 146. In 2012, 134 teens in Allen County gave birth: 66 of those were 19 and 34 of those were 18.
African-American females are overrepresented, said Becky Dershem, with the Allen County Health Department. While African-Americans make up about 13 percent of the county’s population, they made up 26 percent of the teen birth statistics.
Teen pregnancy is part of a larger issue in the community: unwed mothers. This month, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing Lima has one of the highest rates of young, unwed mothers in the country: 68 percent of Lima women ages 20 to 24 who gave birth in 2011 were not married. Lima’s 68 percent rate was surpassed only by two other metro areas in the country: Flagstaff, Ariz., at nearly 75 percent, and Greenville, N.C., at almost 70 percent.
While the numbers are trending down, they remain too high, McDuffie said. The YWCA labels the issue a crisis and an epidemic because of the consequences in a community.
“We already know teen pregnancy correlates with poverty, correlates with increased abuse and neglect, so Children Services is going to work harder. We already know that many of these youngsters aren’t getting a dime of child support, so these families are going to fall back on Allen County Job and Family Services,” McDuffie said.
The YWCA is close to having an agreement to bring back a pregnancy prevention curriculum to Lima schools. The YWCA views teen births as a community-wide problem (and county health data shows that it is), but the organization has limited dollars and wants to make a larger impact, beginning with Lima.
The program would have several components, including discussion with parents about how to talk with their children, curriculum that is part of health class for middle school and 10th-grade students, and an after-school program.
Parents can opt their children out of the health class piece, but many in the existing Toledo program thinking about that end up changing their minds after educators talk with them about the program.
“The curriculum clearly tells them the best way to not get pregnant is to abstain. The best way to not end up with a sexually transmitted disease is not engage. It also takes it a step further, for those kids who are already sexually active or at some point, will become sexually active,” McDuffie said. “When you’re educating people about drugs, no one is running out to get high because you’re talking about it. There are some people who believe that if you’re talking about, kids are going to run out and do it. That’s not what the statistics say at all. It’s actually a delay mechanism because there is a lot of above-the-waist education happening.”