LIMA — Sitting in her parent’s Lima home, with a cooing 8-month-old on her lap, ShaCoya Warthem explained how her life has changed since she gave birth to her son.
When she found out she was pregnant, she was in her senior year of high school. She was in the middle of her track season, and she was very surprised by the news.
“I was planning on going to" the University of Toledo, said Warthem, 18, a 2012 graduate of Lima Senior High School. She had plans to study athletic training or sports management.
As she talked, she continually bounced her son, Xavier, on her lap. At 8 months old, he’s a very curious baby. His big brown eyes scan the room. He’s constantly cooing, reaching for things, like his pacifier, his bottle, exploring his new world.
“I had to kind of rearrange it so that I would be able to go to school, be able to work and still take care of him,” she said.
Werthem gave birth at the end of the summer, and began school at the University of Northwest Ohio the next week, studying medical office management. It’s been difficult to juggle her social life, her job and school. But she said her parents and sometimes her boyfriend help out, making things more manageable for her.
“My life revolves around him,” she said. “Like, the other day, I didn’t have a baby sitter. So I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it to work. Or, if I want to go hang out with my friends … either he has to go with me or there’s someone who can watch him while I’m having my friend time. But he always comes first.”
Werthem is among 134 teenage girls ages 14 to 19 who gave birth in Allen County last year, according to Allen County Health Department statistics. The number is actually at a 15-year low in the county. In comparison, there were 247 teens in the county who gave birth in 1998. However, several Allen County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force members said it’s still an issue regardless.
“We’ve brought those numbers down,” said Donna Dickman, executive director of Partnership for Violence-Free Families. “But like any other prevention program, if you stop doing the prevention, it creeps back up. And that’s where we’re at.”
Even among women of all ages, 51 percent of mothers in Allen County who gave birth in 2010 were not married. And recently, the Census Bureau showed about 68 percent of women ages 20 to 24 of Limaites who gave birth in 2012 were not married. These trends, while different from teen motherhood, can sometimes be attributed to teen births of generations past. And unlike various stereotypes, the task force wants to show this is a men’s and a women’s issue.
Old and new programs
The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force is nothing new. It was formed back in 1986, and had worked with groups such as the now defunct YWCA of Lima to bring in sex education curriculum into local schools, such as “Baby Think it Over.” This program had a focus on the dolls, like babies, that students took home, feeding them and providing care for them.
The YWCA of Lima hasn’t had a curriculum in schools for about three years. But now, the YWCA of Northwest Ohio is looking to introduce a more comprehensive curriculum into Lima-area schools that’s modelled from a program that’s been done in Toledo-area schools during the past five years.
Lisa McDuffie, executive director of the YWCA of Northwest Ohio, said the program focuses not only on sexual health, but learning about healthy relationships, self-esteem issues and character building. McDuffie also stressed the program is abstinence-based, which is different from abstinence-only.
“The best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and the best way to avoid pregnancy is to abstain,” she said.
The program also tries to foster relationships with trusted adults, called teen advocates, to try to bring them accurate facts. A big problem now is that most information they have come from their peers, which isn’t always accurate.
“When it really comes to life choices, oftentimes, it’s better to go to an adult that’s been there, done it, that you can trust who’s going to give the right facts,” McDuffie said. “Obviously, in many instances, it’s encouraged for a parent to do that. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.”
Dickman and the task force have also focused on urban myths that circulate among teens. Drinking Mountain Dew before sex. Having sex for the first time. Jumping up and down. Of course, those are not ways to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted disesases, but there are teens who believe it.
“A lot of kids buy into that stuff. Unbelievable,” Dickman said. “With the ease of finding out information these days, they’re latching onto those kinds of things.”
That’s why McDuffie said it’s essential for children to have someone in their lives to bring them correct, accurate information, whether it’s from a parent or another trusted adult.
McDuffie, who has also been working with the county task force, said she hopes to see the program implemented into schools next school year. The curriculum would be added into existing health classes, with teen advocates coming into schools a few times a week during the course of a nine-week period or semester. The plan has not yet been confirmed in any of the schools; funding will also be a challenge, as it has been in the past.
Another initiative PVFF and the task force have launched is called 52 Dreams, trying to teach local teens via social media, showing them various sacrifices teen parents often make.
“We’re going to use social media to reach the kids, and highlight different dreams that they’re giving up,” said Laura Ulrick, a social media specialist with PVFF. “Because they’re less likely to graduate from high school, they’re less likely to own a vehicle, they’re less likely to go to prom. So every day, we’re going to have 52 items.”
The 52 number comes from the fact that 52 out of 1,000 Allen County teen girls gave birth in 2012. The initiative is posting daily on Facebook and Twitter. They are also giving away $52 gift cards to area teens to like and follow the pages throughout the month of May, which happens to also be Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.
So far, items like corsages and footballs that have been highlighted on the pages.
There are also programs the Family and Children First Council organizes that target teen parents, as well as Allen County Health Department programs, including one that focuses on fatherhood.
There are other programs as well, that focus on prevention and camaraderie, such as the newly formed after-school program at Lima-UMADOP, called Girls Empowering and Motivating Success. The program, which has about 15 girls ages 10 to 16 enrolled, just wrapped up its first school-year program.
Teen parenthood, teen pregnancy prevention
For Werthem, while difficult to raise a child at a young age, she loves Xavier very much.
“He’s my little cuddle bug,” she said.
In addition to the help she receives from her parents and others in supportive positions, she attributes a lot of her parenting knowledge to an early childhood development class, a two-year course she took while she was in high school.
For now, she’s going to focus on getting her associate degree from UNOH, and then try to pursue her education further. She said the educational part of her schedule, whether it’s going to class or doing homework, is most difficult for her.
The task force has also organized an event called, “A Community-Based Approach to Teen Pregnancy Prevention,” which takes place from 9 a.m. to noon May 22 at the City Club. Carol Haddix, with the Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Ohio Personal Responsibility Education Program, is a keynote speaker. To RSVP, call or email Ann Jenkins, at 419-227-8590, or firstname.lastname@example.org.